Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

After Actions During Seattle Tragedy, Pregnant Woman in Hero’s Spotlight

August 14, 2006
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

It was only a phone call, but it changed everything. Dayna Klein’s act of defiance halted the shooting spree at the Jewish Federation in Seattle on July 28 and made her a heroine. Now Klein, five months pregnant, is sharing her story, urging all employers to take workplace security seriously, speaking up for gun control and speaking out in the media against the kind of prejudice that may have led to the catastrophe.

Even with her left arm in a brace, her Israeli husband, Erez, at her side in an interview with JTA, she reports that she is able to slide her wedding band on and off can squeeze toothpaste onto the toothbrush. She still needs to see nerve specialists, and her arm, which she flung out to protect her stomach to catch the whizzing bullet, may never fully function again.

“There’s no road map on what to do when you get shot as a pregnant person,” she said half-jokingly.

Throughout the interview, she retains her composure, but her eyes glisten when she talks about Pam Waechter, her colleague who was killed in the attack.

Klein, a native of Long Island, N.Y., grew up in a secular Jewish household. When faced with the choice of attending Hebrew school or playing soccer, she chose the latter, and became bat mitzvah one month ago, as a 37-year-old.

The speech that “I gave as part of my bat mitzvah was about all the wonderful things I learned really as a kid playing soccer, about the commitment and being on a team,” reflected Klein, a brown-haired woman who smiles easily, even under the strain of the tragedy.

Klein delved into the communal and religious aspects of Judaism when she moved to Seattle with her now-husband, whose family lives in Haifa, two and a half years ago after leaving Bakersfield, Calif., she said.

In January 2004, on her father’s yahrzeit, a colleague at the federation convinced Klein to attend the adult b’nai mitzvah class at Kol HaNeshamah, a progressive Reform synagogue in Seattle — which became the first synagogue she and her husband ever joined.

“The opportunity to have worked at the federation really has expanded my scope and interest in being a part of Jewish community life,” she said.

At the federation, where she worked as the director of major gifts, Klein initiated projects to send impoverished youths in Israel to summer camp — and for Russian children to travel to Israel to explore their religious heritage.

As a side project, she worked closely with the Reform and Conservative movements in Europe “to help them become less marginalized,” she said, including raising money to send an Italian student aspiring to enter the rabbinate to the Leo Baeck College in London.

On the day of the shooting, Klein was in her office sending thank you notes to donors and making calls, wishing people a peaceful Shabbat.

She then heard noises that sounded like bubble wrap popping, she said, and then screams. Then she was shot in the arm.

The gunman then warned that anyone caught seeking help from the outside would be killed immediately.

But Klein, 17 weeks pregnant and wounded, crawled to her desk, picked up the phone and dialed 911.

“Somewhere in my mind, I had the information I needed and because I was able to stay calm, everything rushed to the surface and I was able to do what I needed to do,” she recalled.

The gunman caught her, infuriated. He cursed at her, pointed a gun at her head, took her hostage and launched into anti-Semitic diatribe.

He then demanded to speak with CNN. She thrust the phone at him with the 911 operators still on the line.

He took it and talked with the operators. He relented. He put the gun down, and walked out.

“One very unhappy person sadly took his aggression out and manifested his racism by hurting me and my friends and my community and I do not blame Israel nor would I ever blame Israel,” she said. “Israel is such a scapegoat to so many people who are just racists.”

The alleged shooter, Naveed Haq, is in custody and awaiting arraignment, which is slated for Tuesday.

Klein, who has a master’s degree in social work, credits her confidence and aplomb to her training in crisis intervention and the skills she learned as a director of the American Red Cross.

“It’s what saved my life, it saved my baby’s life, and I hope I saved a lot of other people’s lives in the process — and it’s just because I had little bit more knowledge than the next guy and was able to use it when I needed to,” she said.

As the SWAT team escorted her out the building, she saw her close friend and the federation’s campaign director, Waechter, sprawled on the stairs. Waechter died in the shooting, which injured four other women, in addition to Klein.

“The most important thing to me is to maintain the integrity of Pam’s legacy. Pam truly does have a legacy on Seattle’s Jewish community,” Klein said of her friend and colleague. She says her son will carry Waechter’s name in some way.

Klein is transforming the tragedy into a lesson plan while trying to heal from the physical and psychological wounds, offering to visit any Jewish organization to encourage that security precautions be taken and emergency planning provided.

“Balancing being a heroine and recovering from what could potentially be a lifelong disability, you know, to me, it’s I’m going to take these really horrible lemons and make a hell of a glass of lemonade, and hopefully just be able to save more people.”

Recommended from JTA