Mindy Finkelstein, a former camp counselor at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, recalled the August day five years ago when her life took a jagged turn.
"I heard it first, then I felt it," recalls Finkelstein, now 21 and a senior at UC Santa Barbara. "I was the first person shot. I grabbed my camper and ran into a room screaming and bleeding -- I thought I would die."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 16, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Community center shooting -- An Aug. 9 article in the California section about a gathering to commemorate the fifth anniversary of a fatal shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills reported that Buford O. Furrow Jr. sprayed the building with "automatic weapons fire." Furrow used a semiautomatic gun.
That was Aug. 10, 1999, the day white supremacist Buford O. Furrow Jr. walked into the center and sprayed it with automatic weapons fire, injuring three children and a receptionist after shooting Finkelstein twice in the leg. Later that day, he killed a Filipino American letter carrier, Joseph S. Ileto, in nearby Chatsworth.
Furrow, who pleaded guilty in 2001 to murdering Ileto and wounding the five at the center, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On Sunday, Finkelstein was among about 100 other center supporters who gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the shooting with speeches and a fundraising raffle. They also looked forward to the restoration of the vitality of the center, which has struggled to remain open.
"This country has been preoccupied by 9/11," Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) told the crowd at the center, "but here in the Valley we remember 8/10, when we had our own terrible act of terrorism. It's a miracle that nobody at the center died."
Center leaders have been resolved to keep the facility open, despite dwindling enrollment, from 350 in 1999 to 154 today. The center provides senior citizen programs and after-school care for children. Two years ago when its financially ailing parent -- Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles -- decided to sell the 5.5-acre Granada Hills property, the center declared its independence rather than close its doors.
President Elaine Fox said she is negotiating with the property's new owners for long-term lease so the center can promote itself as a fixture in the community and potential members can be confident of its continued presence.
She called Sunday's event a "a testament to building a new beginning.... There is a strong Jewish community here, and it's important to remain."
Within the last year the center received a much-needed $25,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation and hopes to expand its child-care services, among other programs.
Finkelstein said she, too, is planning changes in her life.
A year after the attack -- with her physical wounds still healing -- she said she experienced post-traumatic stress that caused a "complete emotional breakdown."
She took a leave from college, got into therapy and, she said, "spent the year recovering and dealing with what happened."
But today she is "doing OK," planning on moving to New York for a year before pursuing a career in film production.
Returning Sunday, she said, was like "coming home. It's important to realize that the JCC is still here. It's five years later, yet the center is here -- and so am I."