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Friday, July 28, 2006 - Page updated at 10:33 PM


1 dead, 5 wounded in Jewish Federation shootings

Seattle Times staff

A woman was dead and five others were hospitalized this afternoon after a shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle building in downtown Seattle by a man who declared he was "angry with Israel."

Seattle police later arrested the alleged gunman, who reportedly had walked into the building between Lenora and Virginia streets on Third Avenue in Belltown and started shooting. One victim died at the scene, according to police.

All five of the wounded are women, said Pamela Steele, a spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The women, ranging in age from 20 and through their 40s, were brought in between 4:30 and 5 p.m. Three victims are in the operating room now and are in critical condition, Steele said. All three were shot in the abdomen.

Two women are in satisfactory condition. A 37-year-old woman, five months pregnant, was shot in the forearm. The other woman was shot in the knee, Steele said.

The shootings began shortly after 4 p.m., according Seattle police said.

Several witnesses said they saw a man walk up to the entrance of the building and shoot a woman in the leg.

The man then walked into the building and went to the roof.

Witnesses said they heard one shot while the man was on the roof. The man then went back inside, and witnesses said they heard several more shots.

An employee in the building said she was at her desk when she heard what she at first thought were balloons popping.

"It went 'Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!' and then we heard a woman scream," said the employee, who asked that her name not be used.

"One of the receptionists told me that he shot her and then demanded that she call 911," the employee said. "He told the police that it was a hostage situation and he wanted us to get our weapons out of Israel."

"I saw one friend –– she had been shot twice in the stomach and was bleeding," the witness said.

Most of the employees were able to leave through a back door.

A few minutes later, the man surrendered to officers.

"He was confronted by officers and peacefully gave up," said SPD Assistant Chief Nick Metz.

According to Amy Wasser-Simpson, the vice president for planning and community services for the Jewish Federation, the man had told staff members, "I'm a Muslim American; I'm angry at Israel," then began shooting.

Wasser-Simpson said she had heard that account from staff members who witnessed the shootings.

"A number of staff people heard some popping sounds, then they heard a scream," Wasser-Simpson said. "They escaped out the back door."

Shortly after that, one staff member who had been shot twice escaped through the back door as well, Wasser-Simpson said.

Wasser-Simpson was not in the building because she was working from home today. She also is in charge of the organization for the moment because the federation's new chief executive officer has yet to start the job and the interim CEO is out of town.

Shortly after the shooting, police began pushing back bystanders toward tiny Regrade Park at the corner of Third Avenue and Bell Street. Some of those walking by the Jewish Federation building during the shooting were being questioned by police.

SWAT-team members lingered on roofs of nearby apartment, condo and office buildings until about 5:30 p.m., poised with rifles ready.

Heavily armored bomb-squad vehicles arrived on Third and Fourth avenues as police began to search a nearby parking garage, where some motorists were warned by officers to leave the building for safety. They wrapped up their search about 6:30 p.m.

Residents of nearby apartment and condominium buildings were warned to stay inside as well.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, founded in 1926, is an umbrella organization for the local Jewish community. It raises money for Jewish social-welfare organizations, runs youth and adult Jewish educational programs, and engages in efforts in support of Israel. It was a sponsor of the Solidarity with Israel rally Sunday on Mercer Island.

The federation's mission is to ensure Jewish survival and enhance the quality of Jewish life locally, in Israel and worldwide.

Even as rabbis were trying to find out more about security in preparation for tonight's services, Robert Jacobs, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, was issuing a recommendation to every Jewish institution, synagogue and temple that they get their people out of their buildings "until we find out if it's a lone incident."

"We're trying to keep the community as calm as possible," he added. Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple De Hirsch Sinai had said he was checking with police to see whether security there needed to be bolstered, if indeed the shootings were related to wider issues.

Hundreds of people have died in Israel and Lebanon since Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid July 12, prompting Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon and a barrage of rockets fired at Israel by Hezbollah.

Several local rabbis said they were continuing with services anyway.

"Even if [the shooting] is based on hate, we're not going to let that have any kind of victory over our community gathering," said Rabbi Jonathan Singer of Seattle's Temple Beth Am.

Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, which has locations in Seattle and Bellevue, said early this evening that he was checking with police to see whether more security would be needed for that evening's service.

Lt. Robert Johns with the Everett Police Department said they sent officers to Temple Beth Or in Everett after hearing of the Seattle shootings. They checked with people at the temple and the rabbi, none of whom had any reason to believe they were a target. Police would maintain a presence at services tonight, Johns said.

David Gomez, an assistant special agent-in-charge for the FBI, said there is nothing to indicate the gunman is part of a larger organization.

"We believe he is a lone individual with antagonism toward this organization," he said.

U.S. Attorney John McKay said his office would consider prosecuting the shooting as a federal hate crime if , indeed, the suspect "was making hate-filled speech" during the shooting spree.

"That likely won't happen until the local investigation is completed," McKay said this afternoon.

Members of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force had been called to the scene.

Seattle Times staff reporters Jennifer Sullivan, Christine Clarridge, Sara Jean Green, Mike Carter, Cheryl Phillips, Nathan Hurst, Janet Tu, Joe Mullin, Erik Lacitis and Brian Alexander contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company



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