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The Nation

6 Shot, 1 Fatally, at Seattle Jewish Center

July 29, 2006|Sam Howe Verhovek and Paul Pringle | Times Staff Writers

SEATTLE — In a burst of violence that sent terrified people running into the streets, a man armed with a handgun opened fire Friday at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, killing one woman and wounding at least five others before surrendering to police, authorities said.

Three of the wounded, all women, were in critical condition Friday night after surgery, a spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center said. The other two, including a pregnant woman, were in satisfactory condition.

Authorities did not identify the dead woman or the wounded.

An FBI official said the gunman, who was identified only as a U.S. citizen and a Muslim, apparently acted alone.

"We believe at this point it is just a lone individual acting out some kind of antagonism toward this particular organization," said David Gomez, assistant special agent in charge of counterterrorism for the FBI's Seattle office, which classified the shooting as a hate crime.

Police officers recovered a handgun and found the gunman's pickup in a nearby garage, while SWAT teams searched the federation building. Several other buildings in the Belltown area near downtown Seattle were evacuated.

The shooting came five days after the federation helped sponsor a large rally in support of Israel in its battle with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Police officers had been given a general alert for possible attacks on synagogues and mosques, officials said.

Federation Vice President Amy Wasser-Simpson, who was not in the building, said staff members told her they heard the gunman declare that he was "angry about Israel."

Police did not immediately confirm her account.

The gunman forced his way through the security door after an employee punched in her access code, police said.

Shortly after 4 p.m., the gunman walked into the nondescript building and opened fire "fairly quickly," said Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske.

The gunman called 911 himself, or directed an employee to, according to conflicting police accounts.

Authorities said up to 18 people had been in the building. Those who escaped injury ran out the rear exits. Most of the wounded were able to walk to rescuers.

Police officers arrived within minutes, bystanders said, and the gunman surrendered without a struggle.

"It was crazy," said Marcus Pecoras, 23, a grocery clerk who was a block and a half away from the building. "I saw some people running out of the building.... The cops sealed it off and started shouting, 'Get down, get down!' So we all got down on the sidewalk."

Hours after the shooting, Elizabeth Bray, a friend of a woman who works at the federation, said she was "frantic for news."

"I just want to know if my friend is OK," Bray said. "No one will tell me anything."

Friday's shooting stirred painful memories of the Aug. 10, 1999, attack at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, in which white supremacist Buford O. Furrow Jr. wounded two adults and three children with a semiautomatic rifle. After fleeing the center, Furrow shot and killed a Filipino American letter carrier, Joseph S. Ileto, in Chatsworth.

Furrow pleaded guilty to murdering Ileto and wounding the five at the center, and is serving a life prison sentence.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle raises funds and provides other support for programs enhancing Jewish community life in the area.

The Pacific Northwest director of the Anti-Defamation League said there were more than 300 incidents of discrimination or harassment against Jews in the Seattle area last year, but none that was considered a violent crime.

"We've been relatively calm up here," said Robert Jacobs. "We hate to have this become some sort of eye-opener, but unfortunately it has."

Jacobs also said that there had been no backlash to Sunday's rally, and that two dozen protesters who staged a counter-demonstration at the event had been "cordial."

He said he knew two of the wounded -- Dayna Klein, the federation's director of major gifts, and Cheryl Stumbo, director of marketing.

About 35,000 to 40,000 Jews live in the Seattle area, he said.

Jacobs added that the league was advising Jewish congregations to arrange for security for today's services.

John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said his organization was also on heightened alert. "It's a very sad, regrettable situation," he said.

Ibrahim Al Husseini, a board member of Seattle's Arab American Community Coalition, said the attack left members of his organization shaken.

"We're shocked it happened in Seattle," said Al Husseini, who estimated that 25,000 to 50,000 Muslims live in greater Seattle.

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"There is a strong interface here between Jews, Muslims and Christians."

Verhovek reported from Seattle and Pringle from Los Angeles. Times researcher Lynn Marshall in Seattle contributed to this report.

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