FORT WASHINGTON, Md. (AP) -- Family, friends and colleagues on Friday remembered a guard who was gunned down at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last week as the victim of an evil and barbaric act that contrasted starkly with his love for life.
Police and security guards, dozens of museum employees and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar were among hundreds of people who attended a funeral for 39-year-old Stephen T. Johns at Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, not far from Washington, D.C.
They remembered Johns, who lived in nearby Temple Hills, as a "gentle giant," a sometimes shy man who was a great listener, loved to travel and had a passionate zeal for life. Johns had an 11-year-old son and last month celebrated his first anniversary with his second wife.
"Stephen was not only a big guy in a uniform," the Rev. John McCoy said. "He was a man with a big heart."
His kindness was particularly evident, McCoy said, when Johns carried out his final act. Authorities say Johns opened the museum door for 88-year-old James von Brunn, who then pointed his gun at Johns' heart and shot him last Wednesday. Von Brunn, a white supremacist and Holocaust denier, faces murder charges in the killing of Johns, who was black.
Even if Johns had survived the shooting and lived for a hundred years, the minister said, his act of kindness in the face of evil would have remained his "finest hour."
Shortly before the funeral, mourners filed past Johns' body in a large wooden casket topped with an enormous bouquet of cream and blue roses. The casket was flanked on either side by a security guard from Wackenhut Services Inc., the contractor Johns worked for during his six years as a security guard at the museum. Several family members sobbed loudly as they walked past to pay their final respects.
Among the flower arrangements at the church were several in burgundy and gold, the colors of Johns' beloved Washington Redskins.
"Stephen, our Stephen, is yet another victim of an evil, ... insane mentality that was thought to be rapidly diminishing from the American landscape," McCoy said. "There's an element in this country that still desires for the Holocaust to continue."
In a rousing eulogy that was interrupted frequently by applause, McCoy called on mourners to honor Johns by refusing to remain silent in the face of racism. He said although the mourners could not bring Johns back, they could spare others from such tragedy by leaving the church determined to do everything in their power to end prejudice.
"Though he is silenced, we can't afford to allow love, justice and righteousness to be silenced," McCoy said.
During the nearly two-hour funeral, written statements from U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and the D.C. Council were read, saluting Johns for his service.
Afterward, Johns' co-worker, Paul Nichols, said the funeral was a moving and fitting tribute to the man.
"He was the only one who would come in every day with a smile," Nichols said. "He was a great man and will be dearly missed."
Von Brunn remains hospitalized after being shot in the face by guards who returned fire. The FBI has said he is likely to survive. A hearing was set for Monday for an update on his condition, but a judge has ruled in favor of a request from prosecutors and von Brunn's public defender to postpone the hearing until Tuesday. No date has been set for von Brunn's initial court appearance.