Jewish students were among the killed and wounded in a mass shooting on Wednesday at a Florida high school, according to local rabbis and news reports.
A former student armed with an AR-15 rifle opened fire at the high school on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, officials said, in a harrowing shooting spree that saw terrified students hiding in closets and under desks as they texted for help.
Rabbi Bradd Boxman of Kol Tikvah, a Reform congregation in the town inland from Boca Raton, said he knew of at least four Jewish high school students among the wounded, including three from his congregation. They were in area hospitals and had undergone surgery.
Local 10 News, an ABC affiliate, named one of the dead students as Jaime Guttenberg, who was Jewish.
“A huge number went to that school,” Bosman said of his congregants.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel identified the gunman as Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland who had been expelled for “disciplinary reasons.”
My friends Jennifer Bloom Guttenberg and Fred Guttenberg haven't heard anything from their daughter Jaime Guttenberg,…
Cruz was arrested without incident in the nearby town of Coral Springs after the Valentine’s Day rampage and taken to hospital with minor injuries, the sheriff said.
Health professionals who gathered at Kol Tikvah walked the high school students through the beginning stages of coping with the trauma, Boxman said. “Within our own community we have many mental health professionals to rely on,” the rabbi said, and many of them rushed to the synagogue to set up counseling services. “It was a place to come for refuge.”
“We just pulled together as a community, the surrounding congregations, to be there for our kids and families, getting the kids to have an opportunity to speak to their experience and begin the healing process in the community,” said Geri Pomerantz, the president of Kol Tikvah.
The session lasted 3 1/2 hours, and was organized by Kol Tikvah and other synagogues from nearby towns, as well as the local Jewish federation.
Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan of the nearby Temple Beth Chai spent the evening at the local Marriott Hotel, where parents had gathered to reunite with their children, counseling parents whose children are still missing. One child from Kaplan’s congregation is among the dead, and another is missing. Beth Chai plans to hold a service tomorrow in response to the shooting.
“It’s chaos here and devastation,” Kaplan told JTA, on his way to console the bereaved parents in his congregation. “Everyone is just waiting and praying. No words can describe what happened here.”
Kol Tikvah will also open up to families on Thursday, as schools in Parkland will be closed, Boxman said. “The children will be able to come and be there with counselors,” he said. “On Shabbat we’ll have a service of healing and unity.”
The sheriff said both students and adults had been killed. He was uncertain about the exact number of people injured, but at least 14 were taken to hospital and two had died there of their wounds.
The shooting, one of nearly 20 since the start of the year, will once again throw the spotlight on the epidemic of gun violence in the United States and the ready accessibility of weapons in a country with 33,000 gun-related deaths annually.
“This is a terrible day for Parkland,” Israel said, speaking of the city of about 30,000 people, located 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Miami.
“My very own triplets went to that school.”
Television images showed students, some with their hands in the air, being led out of the school by heavily armed police officers and an armored vehicle filled with a SWAT team on the scene.
HEARTBREAKING: Text message from student to parent during Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting. Thankfully, this child is safe. pic.twitter.com/YPIz1mRUcq
— WSVN 7 News (@wsvn) February 15, 2018
Len Murray’s 17-year-old son, a junior at the school, sent his parents a chilling text: “Mom and Dad, there have been shots fired on campus at school. There are police sirens outside. I’m in the auditorium and the doors are locked.”
A few minutes later, he texted again, “I’m fine.”
Murray said he raced to the school only to be stopped by authorities under a highway overpass within view of the school buildings. He said he told his son to save his battery and stop texting. The boy’s mother told him to turn off his ringer.
Murray said he’s had just one thought running through his mind since his son’s text: “All I keep thinking about is when I dropped him off this morning. I usually say, ‘I love you,’ and I didn’t this morning. He’s 17, he’s at that age. And I didn’t say it this morning, and I’m just kicking myself right now over and over and over.”
The school was to be closed for the rest of the week.