'How free are we, really? We think we are safer here than anywhere in the world…

JCC shooting shatters calm in a ‘gem of a community’

Parents caught up in the Kansas City shooting recount how a routine day turned into a nightmare

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

The Overland Park Jewish Community Center of Kansas City in April. (screen capture: Fox News)
The Overland Park Jewish Community Center of Kansas City in April. (screen capture: Fox News)

KANSAS CITY — The shooting began on a rainy Sunday, in early afternoon, and caught members of Kansas City’s tightly-knit Jewish community in the middle of another day of children’s birthday parties and swimming lessons.

Mitch Gold, whose daughter was scheduled to have a birthday party at the Jewish Community Center at the time of the shooting, arrived at the Overland Park building and started walking his daughter inside only to be rushed into the building by the JCC security and the executive director. Gold and his daughter were placed on lockdown in a social hall with around five dozen other parents, staff and children.

For what he said felt like two hours (though it was closer to one), he tried to “keep smiles on our faces for the kids,” but it was actually the children’s “carefree spirits” that kept him calm while thoughts raced through his mind.

“Family, passing of a father, someone important I took for granted today, the old woman that laughed as she caught me flexing in front of a department store mirror earlier that day…and most importantly, was it possible it would all end here?” he recalled.

“The victims’ names are still being released, but the outcome is as solid as granite,” Gold continued. “I’ll go to the vigil tonight, and I will weep. As a representative of the JCC of Greater Kansas City, my greatest fear is hearing those names revealed, for I shall know them. But I know this community. Both Jewish and beyond. A tight knit community I already see bonding together to face and overcome this tragedy. I’m proud of the members, staff and families of this Jewish Community Center, And of this community. I won’t sleep tonight. But I’m a lucky guy.”

Later, when two of the victims names were released as 14-year-old Reat Griffin Underwood and his 69-year-old grandfather, William Lewis Corporon, Gold posted on his Facebook page. He knew the victims, just as he had suspected. “We knew the victims well. Kiss your kids and loved ones. Every one of you,” wrote Gold.

Dara Granoff’s daughter, Gabbie, had just finished a dance performance at the Village Shalom retirement community, the site of the second attack. Gabbie had just returned to the JCC for a party when the attack happened. Soon, Granoff learned of the incident, too.

“I heard about it. I don’t know how long it took for me to hear about it, but once I did, it was five more minutes before I heard from the teacher that she [Gabbie] was OK,” Granoff recalled hours later. “That was a crazy five minutes of not knowing where she was or what was gong on. First, I did not know if it was true. I thought maybe it was a rumor. I tried to reach the teacher by email and she e-mailed back quickly.”­­

Granoff said that the attack left her bewildered.

“I don’t know what to think now. We never would have expected this to have occurred here, or anywhere else. But we know these things do occur in our world. It’s upsetting. It is too close to home,” she said.

Granoff has been flooded by emails, phone calls and text messages asking if she and her family are safe.

“It is so nice that people think of us, but it is horrible to have this worry,” she concluded. “I guess we should just hear good news. I guess it is good that we are about to celebrate Passover; families will be together.”

Anne Green was struck with similar emotions. She was driving toward the JCC to drop off her two older children at swimming lessons when a police car sped by. Arriving at the JCC around ten minutes after the shooting, she saw two more police cars arrive.

Green recalls thinking that it was strange. As they drove toward the building, they saw a car parked on the side, with smashed windows. The Greens never considered that it could have been a shooting; they thought that someone had vandalized a car. But they soon realized that something more was wrong.

“It was also almost eerie, kind of quiet,” Green recalled. “We parked down by the back entrance, by the White Theater. A security guard came up to us and said, ‘You don’t want to park here, but over there.’ We asked what was going on and he said, ‘I think there were shots fired.’ It was very eerie, but not stressful.”

The family came around to the front of the building and were ushered into the social hall. It was only after Green went home over an hour later that the reality of what happened set in.

“I started thinking, if we had been there 10 minutes before…,” she said. “We were right there, literally right there, not more than 100 feet from where it happened… I was sorting of reflecting on life lately, and starting to think about whether I have the life I want, if I’m treating my kids right. And this just really woke me up.”

Green saw the hand of providence in the fact that she and her children were running late.

“I was in a funk and this made me realize that someone is watching out for us and I felt that. We usually get there earlier and we were running late today and just having everyone being alright helps me to realize what is important. It puts things in perspective.”

The same calm that Green saw at the JCC was, for Yosef Silver, a sign of his community’s strength.

“My thoughts focused on the power of the community we have here,” he said shortly after the incident. “There was such a calm reaction. It became a day of concern, a day of love for each other.”

Silver said he and his wife had previously lived in Israel and that he had been in London during the July 7, 2005 coordinated bombing attack. He said that, on the eve of Passover, the event made him ask, “How free are we, really? We go about our lives and think we are safer here than anywhere in the world…”

Silver’s initial reaction was that he will never go back to the JCC. “But then I realized that was just me being emotional. I can deal with this. This cannot take away the unity we discovered here in Kansas. There is a unity here, not just in the Jewish community, but in the wider Kansas City community. We are this little hidden community, a hidden gem of a community.”

Maayan Jaffe contributed to this report. 

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