NEW YORK (Sep. 21)
A total of $15,000 in reward money has been offered by New York City and a major Jewish organization for information leading to the apprehension of the person or persons responsible for a series of sniper attacks on Yeshiva University students.
The announcement of the reward followed the wounding last Sunday afternoon of a Yeshiva University High School student who was riding in a car on an expressway in the vicinity of the school after having left the Manhattan upper West Side campus, and the killing of a woman in another car that was travelling ahead of the students’ car.
The urgency related to Sunday’s incident was the announcement yesterday by Police Commissioner Robert McGuire that linked Sunday’s shooting to three other prior shooting incidents last June of which Yeshiva University students were the apparent targets.
EARLIER SHOOTINGS RECALLED
In the earlier shootings, which took place in and around the campus of the Yeshiva University, shots were fired on June 7 at the front building on the university’s main campus; on June 9 at the Jewish Memorial Hospital; and on June 22 at a luncheonette frequented by university students. Several students were injured in the June 22 attack.
Sunday’s shooting occurred on the Cross-Bronx Expressway heading east toward the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge to Queens where the five students who were in the car live. According to a police official, a lone gunman armed with an automatic or semi-automatic rifle using “high velocity” bullets, trailed the students from the campus where they had been participating in try-outs for the high school hockey team.
The gunman, police said, followed the students and then pulled ahead of their car and stopped on the Castle Hill exit ramp, an estimated 3 1/2 miles from the school’s campus. He waited for the car carrying the students and fired three shots, one of which hit the lead car, killing its occupant, 37-year-old Lucille Rivera of Woodhaven, Queens, then fired at the students’ car, hitting one of them, 17-year-old Donald Spilky of Far Rockaway, Queens, in the knee. The third bullet hit a retaining wall, police said.
Deputy Police Commissioner of Public Information Alice McGillion confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency the sequence of events and said that it was feasible that the car trailed the students from the Manhattan campus and then pulled onto the ramp and fired the three shots. “They were not aware they were being followed,” McGuire said.
The sniper’s car has been described as a dilapidated four-door late 1960′s or early 1970′s Chrysler, perhaps a Plymouth or Dodge, possibly with New Jersey license plates. The sniper has been described as a man with close-cropped hair, in his 20′s, by eye-witnesses, Commissioner McGuire said.
McGuire told a news conference yesterday that ballistics tests have determined that the bullets used in Sunday’s shooting were fired from the same rifle used in two earlier incidents. There were no spent bullets from the June 7 shooting at the main building of the university that could be used to make a positive determination, but police feel it was from the same weapon.
PREMISE OF ANTI-SEMITIC ATTACKS
Questioned yesterday on whether the attacks were anti-Semitic, McGuire said, “We can speculate that the shootings were anti-Semitic, that they were done by people who had problems with Yeshiva students, by gangs in the area, or by a disgruntled employe.”
The theory of a disgruntled employe was central to the investigation initiated following the first shooting at the campus. But according to a source at the Yeshiva University, the theory that the incidents were related to an employe fired three weeks prior the June 7 incident for stealing refrigerators, has been dropped after the individual was given a polygraph test and investigated extensively.
The source said the police are working on the “premise” that the attack is anti-Semitic, but that the attack is not the work of an organized group or gang because no one has called to claim responsibility for the attacks, the source said. McGillion said “The police do not consider this attack the act of a rational person.”
SECURITY ARRANGEMENTS BY POLICE, UNIVERSITY
The police have taken, since the first shooting incident, what were described as “excellent” efforts to halt any further occurences. More than a dozen uniformed police officers have been assigned to cover the four-block campus while there are 30 detectives investigating full time in the area.
The police protection around Yeshiva University led one official to comment “The major reason it (Sunday’s shooting) did not happen on this campus is because of the uniformed presence on this campus.”
Yeshiva University has initiated its own security arrangements by allocating $250,000 to hire Wells Fargo security guards and increasing campus security, which doubled the number of security guards at the university. But the university is reluctant to provide specific numbers on how many security guards it employs.
There have been no reports of parents pulling their children out of Yeshiva University divisions because of the rash of shootings. “No parent has called and said he is not sending his kid here because he will get shot,” the university source said. “No one has done this.”
OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT
There has also been an outpouring of support from the Hispanic community and the Jewish community. The American Jewish Committee said it has joined with a variety of other racial, religious and ethnic leaders, to establish a fund for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the perpetrators. The AJC fund totals $5,000 at latest reports.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said today that the linkage of Sunday’s shooting to the previous incidents around Yeshiva University “are of grave concern. However, we do not believe this is cause for panic and warn against irresponsible action in response to the news.”
Nathan Nagler, chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith’s New York regional board, called the attack “a despicable act of bigotry” and said “there is no basis at present to believe that this is more than the act of one or a handful of sick individuals.”
The university source told the JTA today that Yeshiva University students have no more problems around the campus with the diverse upper West Side neighborhood residents than “any other person wearing a yarmulka walking around New York.” The source said there have been reports of harassment and some vandalism against university property in the past, but “nothing out of the ordinary.”