British member of Parliament Jo Cox was shot to death Thursday afternoon outside a library as she finished a meeting with her constituents. The event has shocked the nation not just because of Cox’s status as a member of the government but because violent crimes of this nature are a rare occurrence in England. It is the first time a member of Parliament has been killed since 1990. The suspect, 52-year old Thomas Mair, was arrested on the scene.
Cox was elected to Parliament last year. Prior to her election she had a career in humanitarianism. She was respected for being a strong advocate for Syrian refugees. She was also an opponent of the highly contentious “Brexit,” a referendum that will soon be voted on. Should Brexit be approved by the voters, Britain will leave the European Union.
It is unclear whether the attack was motivated by opposition to Cox’s political positions. There are reports the assailant yelled “Britain first!” before opening fire, but that has been disputed by some of the eyewitnesses. Mair’s brother, Scott, has said that he suffered from mental health issues.
“My brother is not violent and is not all that political. I don’t even know who he votes for. He has a history of mental illness, but he has had help,” Scott told the Daily Telegraph.
On Thursday night, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that Mr. Mair was a “dedicated supporter” of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi organization in the United States.
Supporters and opponents of Brexit have suspended their campaign activities out of respect for Cox.
“The death of Jo Cox is a tragedy,” Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain wrote on Twitter, describing Ms. Cox as “a committed and caring M.P.” and “a great star.” He said, “It’s right that we’re suspending campaigning activity in this referendum.”
“Sarah and I were privileged to work with Jo and her husband Brendan over many years and in her tireless efforts on behalf of poor and desolate children and mothers,” former Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote. “She went to some of the most dangerous places in the world. The last place she should have been in danger was in her home town.”