Seattle Jewish Community Still Reeling After Shooting Spree at the Federation

The sentiment in Seattle’s Jewish community is “keep calm, and reassess your security,” but Jews and Muslims are both shaky in the wake of last Friday’s fatal shooting at the city’s Jewish federation. Leaders of Jewish institutions in the city met Sunday afternoon with Seattle’s mayor and police chief at the Jewish Community Center, part of their scramble to determine the next steps for keeping synagogues and service agencies operating and secure.

At the meeting, police officials promised an increased security presence at Jewish institutions, and said Jewish groups should have local police give them a security assessment.

Counseling was also offered to employees at Jewish organizations, particularly those at the federation, where the tragedy struck.

Attendees at the meeting were also told that the federation building is expected to stay closed for another week, pending a police investigation.

The Harborview Trauma Center near downtown Seattle served as a de-facto Shabbat gathering place last Friday evening as Jews from around the city met to console each other after that afternoon’s shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, which left one person dead and five injured.

The metropolitan area’s two Conservative congregations canceled services for that evening, but most other synagogues were determined to hold Shabbat services — though with an added police presence.

“You can’t let hatred stop holiness,” Rabbi Jonathan Singer of Reform Temple Beth Am told his congregation that night, according to the Seattle Times.

Jews from around the city expressed disbelief and sorrow.

“It was shocking,” said David Sabban, a former federation employee. “I remember when we would do our safety discussions there was always this scenario, if this guy came in with a gun and started shooting people, what would you do? It just happened so suddenly, in an instant.”

Streets surrounding the Seattle federation’s office were closed for hours as police and Seattle’s SWAT team searched for a possible accomplice to the gunman, identified as Naveed Afzal Haq, 30, originally of Pasco, Wash., a small city about four hours from Seattle. Haq’s last known address was in Everett, another small city 20 miles north of Seattle, though he disappeared from his residence there about two weeks ago, the Seattle Times reported last Friday.

The Arab American Institute condemned the crime.

“There is no room for the kind of despicable action that occurred in Seattle,” the institute’s president, James Zogby said Saturday. “The tragic conflict raging in the Middle East cannot be used as justification for any criminal act of hate in this country. It is wrong and we reject it.”

On Saturday, King County District Court Judge Barbara Linde set Haq’s bail at $50 million.

The shooting began at approximately 4 p.m. last Friday, when a man suspected to be Haq took a teenage girl hostage, forced his way through the first-floor security door and walked upstairs to the federation reception desk, where he began his rampage.

The first floor houses the JTNews the federation-owned Jewish community newspaper and the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center. Those offices have separate entrances, but can be accessed through the federation’s front lobby with a security code.

Witnesses in the building said Haq identified himself as an American Muslim upset about America’s presence in Iraq and the current Israel-Lebanon conflict.

Citing a statement of probable cause, The Associated Press reported that Haq had told a 911 dispatcher, “These are Jews and I’m tired of getting pushed around and our people getting pushed around by the situation in the Middle East.”

Pam Waechter, 58, the director of the federation’s community campaign, died at the scene. Waechter had worked in various capacities at the Seattle federation for nearly a decade, and at Seattle’s Jewish Family Service social service agency for seven years before that. She was also president of her congregation and a board member of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Waechter was “really sort of a model for everybody else,” Sabban said. “Pam was one of the sweetest people I ever worked with,” adding, “She was great at her job and just a really wonderful person.”

No Reform congregations elsewhere in the country are known to have canceled or altered any planned activities for the weekend, according to Reform spokeswoman Emily Grotta, although many have been in touch with their local law enforcement agencies.

“We’ll probably send something out tomorrow, reminding them to review security procedures, review their facilities, and make sure they’re in touch with law enforcement,” Grotta said. “We do that every year before the High Holidays anyway.”

The national organizations for Conservative and Orthodox synagogues have yet to respond to JTA’s request for information about any synagogue closings.

The surviving victims are Christina Rexroad, 28, a bookkeeper; Layla Bush, 23, receptionist and office manager; and Cheryl Stumbo, 43, the federation’s director of marketing, all of whom were upgraded to serious condition Saturday. Carol Goldman, 35, a coordinator for the federation’s community campaign, and Dayna Klein, 37, the director of planned giving, were reported as being listed in satisfactory condition. Klein, who was shot in the arm, is credited with convincing Haq to speak to 911 operators, who persuaded the gunman to put down his weapon and surrender, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Another employee sustained minor injuries from jumping from her second-floor office into a dumpster in the alley behind the federation building. She was treated at the Starbucks a block away where federation employees who had escaped the shooting through a back door gathered and spoke with police. The blood of one of the shooting victims sat in a pool outside the coffee shop’s front door as police rolled out yellow tape to secure the area.

Messages of condolence and support have been coming in from Seattle’s Muslim community. A delegation of Muslim leaders is expected to visit the remaining shooting victims in hospital today, and two Muslim women helped lay flowers last Friday at B’nai Torah, Waechter’s synagogue.

Muslim leaders have told local reporters they fear a backlash similar to what they experienced after the 9/11 attacks. A march scheduled for Saturday calling for a cease-fire in the Middle East was canceled, as were events slated for last Friday at a city mosque.

At a vigil in a Seattle park Saturday afternoon, approximately 50 community members, some of them current or former employees of the federation, gathered to pray and speak about the incident. Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum of the Kavana spiritual community put the shootings into the context of the Nine Days, the current period that culminates this Wednesday with the Tisha B’Av fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Second Temple, as the most tragic in Jewish history.

Several attendees at the vigil expressed hope that the shooting could be used as an opportunity to build better relations with the local Muslim community, an idea proposed last Friday afternoon by at least one local Muslim leader.

(JTA correspondent Sue Fishkoff in Oakland, Calif., contributed to this report.)

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