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Survivors mark 10th anniversary of Granada Hills shooting

Pain gives way to healing as the assault on children at the North North Valley Jewish Community Center is remembered.

August 11, 2009|Ann M. Simmons

Not a day goes by that Mindy Finkelstein doesn't pause to remember the terrifying morning 10 years ago when a self-professed white supremacist went on a calculated rampage against Jews and ethnic minorities, killing a man and wounding others.

"Every day, it crosses my mind," said Finkelstein, 26, who was shot in the right calf and thigh while working as a day-camp counselor at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.

But speaking on Monday, 10 years after the incident, Finkelstein said she wanted this anniversary to be different.

"The anniversaries in the past have always been a little sad," she said. "I used to think negatively. But I'm using this anniversary as more of a hopeful one."

It is a sentiment shared by many survivors, relatives and community members affected by the actions of Buford O. Furrow Jr.

Furrow sprayed the lobby of the Jewish Center with bullets, striking Isabelle Shalometh, 68, a grandmother and receptionist at the facility. The rounds also hit Benjamin Kadish, 5; Joshua Stepakoff and James Zidell, both 6; and Finkelstein, who was a 16-year-old high school senior at the time. All survived.

Furrow then stole a vehicle and drove to Chatsworth, where he fatally shot Joseph Ileto, 39, a Filipino American postal worker who was substituting on a mail delivery route. Furrow was eventually sentenced to life in prison. The North Valley center has closed.

Finkelstein and Joshua Stepakoff, now 16, are helping to push for tighter gun control and stricter legislation against hate crimes, working with such groups as Women Against Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

"It's gotten to a point where we can turn [our experience] around to help other people," said Stepakoff, a high school junior.

Ileto's young brother Ismael, 46, said he doesn't want his brother to be remembered "just as a hate-crime victim." Along with other family members, he has been participating in forums, training workshops and speaking about the need to inspire others to work against prejudice and violence.

On Monday, about two dozen people gathered under blue canopies on a dirt lot in Santa Clarita, the site of the future Southern California Center for Jewish Living. They embraced, spoke and sang traditional Jewish prayers of thanks, healing and peace, as they recalled the day of the shootings.

"I was always taught to remember, so we are not condemned to repeat our mistakes," said Joshua Frazin, whose 4-year-old daughter was at the Jewish center's preschool when Furrow went on his rampage. She wasn't hurt.

Rabbi Mark Blazer of Santa Clarita's Temple Beth Ami presided over Monday's commemoration and underscored the community's commitment to building the new center.

"Today's event is also a celebration of the future, to recognize what we have to learn from this experience," Blazer said.

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

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