Murder-suicide at Synagogue Leaves Westport Jews Reeling

Members of Temple Israel in Westport, Conn. are reeling from the recent murder- suicide of a synagogue employee by her estranged husband that took place inside the synagogue.

Harriette Hunter, 48, of Bridgeport, an administrative assistant at Temple Israel’s religious school, was shot and killed by Stuart Hunter, 56, in the synagogue’s religious school offices at around noon on May 9.

Stuart Hunter then shot and killed himself.

The congregation has reacted “with shock and disbelief, but by and large there has been a real coming together around this issue,” said Temple Israel Rabbi Robert Orkand.

“Obviously for us, what compounded this tragedy was the feeling of violation that it happened in a place we always considered safe,” the rabbi continued. “You’re supposed to come here and be safe from the problems of the world, not faced with violence.”

Harriette and Stuart Hunter had been married for approximately four years and their divorce was pending.

Since their separation Harriette Hunter had obtained a restraining order against her husband.

Both were members of congregation Rodeph Sholom in Bridgeport.

Harriette, a native of New York, lived in Bridgeport and was a member of Rodeph Sholom for the last 18 years.

She worked at Temple Israel for seven years, and had previously worked in both public and school libraries, “but her real love was Judaism and children,” Orkand said.

“She was a wonderful woman, a dedicated a evolving Jew who was growing in Jewish commitment,” said Rabbi Israel Stein of Rodeph Sholom.

Stuart hunter, who was born and raise in Bridgeport, lived in other areas for years, including Florida, before returning to Bridgeport five years ago. He was a salesman of medical supplies.

“He was friendly and bright. He swept Harriette off her feet, and she swept him off his,” said Stein, who married the couple four years ago, and who officiated at both of their funerals.

“They attended worship together and even as their marriage deteriorated, they continued to worship at the same synagogue. I would like to believe that in the storm that was the end of their marriage, they found an anchor at our synagogue.”

Stein said he has been on the telephone with congregants constantly since the incident, trying to help them come to grips with the tragedy.

“We are suffering terribly,” he said. “People can’t believe that Jews do things like this. A young girl in the congregation who knew Harriette said this kind of thing doesn’t happen to us.”

As a result of the tragedy, Stein said he is planning two programs on domestic violence, and a course on anger management at Merkaz, the local supplemental Hebrew high school program.

“There is a violence, a curse in American society. We Jews should stop putting our heads in the sand about the contagion of domestic violence,” Stein said.

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