Memphis police shoot Jewish man who fired gun at Orthodox school, tried to break in

Officers in Tennessee city say attacker, a former student of the targeted school, tried to enter Margolin Hebrew Academy, fired handgun outside building

Memphis police officers at the scene of an officer-involved shooting, July 31, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
Memphis police officers at the scene of an officer-involved shooting, July 31, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

Police in Memphis, Tennessee, said Monday that officers shot a man after he fired a weapon outside a Jewish school and tried to break inside the building.

The suspect was Jewish and a former student at the school, said US Rep. Steve Cohen, whose district includes Memphis.

A Jewish security group also said the suspect was Jewish and that the incident appeared to be personal in nature. The Memphis Police Department would not confirm the claims, nor reports saying the man had been killed.

The Memphis Police Department said it had received a call at around 12:20 p.m. about a suspect armed with a handgun outside the Margolin Hebrew Academy.

The suspect, a white male, attempted to enter the school but was unable to gain access to the building due to its security doors, police said.

“Thankfully, that school had a great safety procedure and process in place and avoided anyone being harmed or injured at that scene,” said Assistant Police Chief Don Crowe.

The suspect fired a handgun at the school several times, causing no injuries, then fled the scene, according to the Secure Community Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions in the US.

The Secure Community Network and the Memphis Jewish Federation obtained security camera footage of the suspect, identified him by his license plate, and discovered additional details about him.

The information was shared with law enforcement, which put out a broadcast about the suspect’s maroon pickup truck. Officers spotted the vehicle soon after in the adjacent city of Bartlett.

When officers stopped the vehicle, the suspect exited with a handgun. A Memphis Police Department officer fired at the suspect, hitting him.

The suspect was transported to a hospital in critical condition, and the attempted attack is under investigation, police said.

A police spokesperson said officers had “mitigated a potential mass shooting situation.”

When asked if law enforcement believe the shooting was a hate crime, Crowe said it was “way too early” to make that determination and officers were still on the scene and collecting information.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations is now handling the case.

The suspect was a member of the Jewish community and the incident appeared personal in nature, a spokesperson for the Secure Community Network told The Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The day school was still on summer break during the incident, but there were school personnel including construction workers at the site, and the building immediately went into lockdown, according to Michael Masters, CEO of the Secure Community Network.

All schools in the Memphis-Shelby County Schools district were also put on a precautionary lockdown, which was lifted at 2 p.m.

The Margolin Hebrew Academy is an Orthodox school serving students from preschool through the 12th grade, according to its website.

US Jewish institutions have invested heavily in security measures in recent years as antisemitism has soared in the US, and after a series of deadly attacks on Jews.

Security experts have said basic measures, such as locked, reinforced doors, can thwart attempted attacks. Locked doors prevented a neo-Nazi from shooting worshipers at a synagogue in Halle, Germany, in 2019.

The attempted Memphis shooting came as a jury deliberated the fate of a shooter who massacred 11 Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2018, the deadliest attack against Jews in US history.

JTA and AP contributed to this story.

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