Faith community responds to shootings

BY SUSAN KIM | LOS ANGELES | August 11, 1999

LOS ANGELES (Aug. 11, 1999) -- Yesterday's shooting at a Jewish community center brought an immediate response from faith-based community centers and schools. Most were determined to continue offering their services, even while adding extra security and fielding continuous calls from the media.

After a gunman opened fire at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, wounding five people, police and emergency response teams requested counselors be sent from Jewish Family Services (JFS).

During an aftermath yesterday that JFS Executive Director Sandra King described as "chaotic," a dozen counselors assisted children, parents, and staff. Today the counselors returned to the center, which reopened, to continue to offer group and individual counseling.

"We are also working with other centers and camps, because right now all the kids who are leaving their parents for the day are nervous," she said.

Community centers and schools have largely remained open, some with extra security and additional staff available to help people talk through their feelings. Similar discussions happened in workplaces, homes, and churches.

"Everyone in our office is talking about it," said Roxanne Jordan, who works with the Greater Bethany Economic Development Organization. "I live just around the corner from that community center, and this was such a shock. This is not normal for our neighborhood at all."

The North Valley Jewish Center is located in the Granada Hills section of California's San Fernando Valley. The gunman entered the center yesterday about 10:50 a.m. and fired indiscriminately into an area where young children were attending day camp.

Some community centers leaders are also taking a new look at their security policies, but many already have what they consider tight security and want to focus their energies on violence prevention instead.

"We are already very, very careful about security," said Cisca Brier at the First Lutheran Elementary School. "There is a security guard on duty 24 hours a day, a front gate, and a fence around the property. We have a garden around the church where children can safely play. Right now, many of our little ones still aren't aware of the shooting."

Jewish community centers nationwide were especially focused on security, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations advised its synagogues and Jewish schools to tighten security.

"We're very concerned about protecting our clientele," said Lenore Naxon, director of development at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, which added extra security.

"But at the same time we're responding by being very open to public need - and trying to respond honestly to a barrage of media questions," she added. Tonight the center hosted an ecumenical Evening of Solidarity for the public, which was co-sponsored by Episcopalian, Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, and other denominations.

"We've had a lot of reporters calling," agreed Lexi Hogan at the Jewish Community Center in Berkeley.

Amid the widespread media coverage of yesterday's shooting, some Los Angeles faith leaders would like the response to include awareness of less visible gun violence. "We're in south central Los Angeles so we regularly face gun violence in our streets," said LaTanya Stacy, a member of the Bethel Unspeakable Joy, which held Vacation Bible School this week as scheduled.

The shooting has drawn prayers and response from a variety of faiths. "We are praying that God will protect the wounded," said Linda Brown, a member of the Crusaders Temple Church of God.

King said she anticipates a long-term response for mental health needs, as repeated shooting incidents continue to make children anxious - and the public as well.

But Louis Musinow, a lifetime resident of Los Angeles, said that he didn't hesitate to open his spiritual gift shop, the Temple of Good Things, today. "I didn't even think about closing," he said. "I've run this shop for 30 years and nothing of that sort has happened. I think I'm pretty perceptive about people. But something like that, you can't predict."

"I mean, do you know how many different groups and kinds of people live together here in L.A.? It all seems to work most of the time. Because I think we all have a basic morality. It's just that something has gone wrong in our society. Right now the only thing I can think to ask - is 'why?' But I think we can change."

The suspected gunman, who will also be charged for the slaying of a postal worker, surrendered this morning after taking a 240-mile cab ride from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

Los Angeles police officials have traveled to Las Vegas to begin extradition proceedings.

Four of the five injured people remain hospitalized, including one critically injured 5-year-old boy who underwent six hours of surgery today. Two 6-year-old boys are in stable condition, as well as a 16-year-old female counselor. The center's receptionist, who was grazed by bullets on her arm and back, has been released from the hospital.

A warrant has been filed charging the suspect, Buford Oneal Furrow, with five counts of attempted murder. Furrow, who already had a criminal record, is believed to be involved with a radical hate group known for its anti-Jewish philosophy.

He had previously pleaded guilty to a second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, a knife, in April.

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