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Saturday, July 29, 2006 - Page updated at 06:46 PM

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"Once inside he immediately started firing"

The gunman who forced his way into the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle on Friday afternoon put a gun at the back of a 13-year-old girl to gain entry to the building, police said this afternoon.

The man who described himself as a Muslim American angry with Israel then opened fire with two handguns, killing one woman and wounding five others before surrendering to police.

The dead woman was identified this morning as Pamela Waechter, 58.

At a news conference this afternoon, Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said the gunman was stopped on a minor traffic violation, he had been driving down a street exclusively used by buses, about a half hour before the shooting. He said he did nothing to arouse the officer's suspicions.

The man then presumably drove to the federation building, where he hid behind a plant in the lobby for a short time. Kerlikowske said he waited for someone to come in to gain access into the office. When the 13-year-old girl walked up, he put a gun to her head and forced her to take him inside.

"She could not have kept him out," Kerlikowske said. "She was a hostage." The man carried two semi-automatic handguns and extra ammunition into the federation's offices, the chief said.

"Once inside he immediately started firing at people."

He rattled off anti-Israel slurs and commanded people not to dial 911. But shooting victim Dayna Klein, who is 17 weeks pregnant, ignored him. Her actions convinced Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske to call her a hero.

Seconds after being shot in the arm, she crawled across the floor toward a phone and called for help.

Within minutes police were at the building and the Everett man put down his two semi-automatic handguns and surrendered.

Kerlikowske also lauded two 911 dispatchers for their courage. "I was absolutely stunned by the level of calmness and coolness," said Kerlikowske, adding that he has listened to the minutes of 911 tapes.

Suspect Naveed Afzal Haq had recently lived in Everett. A law-enforcement source said Haq apparently has a history of mental illness. Haq, described as a studious loner, was raised in the Tri-Cities area and his family has close ties to the local Muslim community center. Court records show Haq has a charge of lewd conduct pending against him in Benton County.

In a bail hearing this afternoon, King County District Court Judge Barbara Linde set bail at $50 million and found probable cause that Haq could face one charge of first-degree murder and five charges of attempted-murder.

Prosecutors will meet next week to decide whether they'll pursue the death penalty, said spokesman Dan Donohoe.

Haq's public defender asked to waive his client's appearance, which the judge denied. Appearing in court, Haq was clean-shaven, shackled, and wearing a tight, white ultra security jail uniform.

This morning, officials at Harborview Medical Center said the three women critically injured in the gunfire have been upgraded from critical to serious condition.

Three of the victims underwent surgery Friday night. They are Layla Bush, 23, of Seattle; Christina Rexroad, 29, of Everett; and Cheryl Stumbo, 43, of Seattle. They are in the Intensive Care Unit, said Pamela Steele, hospital spokeswoman.

The two other victims, Dayna Klein, 37, of Seattle, and Carol Goldman, 35, of Seattle, remain in satisfactory condition.

Waechter grew up in Minneapolis, Minn., as a Lutheran, the daughter of a businessman. She converted to Judaism after marrying Bill Waechter, an airline pilot, and the couple moved to Seattle in 1979. After raising their two children, Waechter became a student at the University of Washington, graduating with a degree in nutrition.

She became much more active in the Jewish community than her husband, Bill Waechter, from whom she is now divorced. She worked at Jewish Family Service and later at the Jewish Federation, where she did outreach and fundraising. She rose from secretary to two-term president at Temple B'nai Torah.

The shooting came a day after the FBI had warned Jewish organizations nationwide to be on alert after Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon and al-Qaida's second in command urged that the war raging in the Middle East be carried to the U.S. However, the law-enforcement source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there is no evidence that Haq was involved with any group.

"He said he hates Israel," said the source, who is part of the Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force, which was called in to help investigate the shootings.

David Gomez, the assistant special agent-in-charge of the Seattle FBI office, said there is "nothing to indicate he is part of a larger organization."

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

Police and witnesses say the man forced his way through a security door just after 4 p.m. after an employee had keyed in the access code. He began firing indiscriminately with a semiautomatic 9-mm handgun. The man announced he was a Muslim American as he began shooting, according to people who talked to the survivors. Seattle Police Assistant Chief Nick Metz said there were at least 18 people in the offices when the shooting started. Many fled out a back door as the gunfire erupted.

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

The center is located on Third Avenue between Lenora and Virginia streets in Belltown.

Witnesses say the gunman shot one receptionist, then ordered her to dial 911. He then took the phone from her.

"He told the police that it was a hostage situation and he wanted us to get our weapons out of Israel," said one woman who works in the building and heard the account from the wounded co-worker.

During a news conference Friday night, Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said that, based on the conversation Haq had with 911 dispatchers, police are treating the shootings as a hate crime.

U.S. Attorney John McKay said his office will review the information to determine if federal hate-crime charges will be filed.

The woman, who would not allow her name to be used, said she was at her desk when she heard what she thought were balloons popping.

"It went 'Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!' and then we heard a woman scream," said the employee. The man surrendered about 15 minutes after the shooting started.

A Harborview Medical Center spokesman said all of the victims were women. Three were in critical condition and underwent surgery Friday evening. One of the victims was identified by family members as Bush. "We just heard she's alive a minute or two ago," said her mother, Kathryn Bush, from her home in Panama City, Fla. She was in critical condition Friday night.

Dozens of police responded and quickly cordoned off the area. At first, officers didn't know whether there was more than one shooters or how many people had been injured. Heavily armed SWAT officers searched "every room, closet and crawl space" in the two-story building, looking for additional suspects and victims, said police spokesman Rich Pruitt.

Members of the department's bomb squad swarmed around the suspect's white pickup, which was parked in a nearby lot. The vehicle was later impounded.

The law-enforcement source said Haq had a license to carry a concealed weapon, though not the weapon that was used in the shootings.

Federation employee Marla Meislin-Dietrich said security videotapes show the gunman shoved his way past another employee who had just entered a pass code to open a security door.

"He was armed and he pushed his way in," she said.

Amy Wasser-Simpson, the vice president for planning and community services for the Jewish Federation, said the man announced "I'm a Muslim American; I'm angry at Israel," then began shooting. Wasser-Simpson said she heard the account from staff members who witnessed the shootings.

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

Haq's parents and friends were stunned that he had been arrested and booked into the King County Jail for investigation of homicide. No criminal charges have been filed.

His 1994 yearbook photograph from Richland High School showed a smiling Haq with the words "Peace Be Unto You."

A man who answered the door Friday night at the Pasco home of Haq's parents said the house was a federal crime scene. The man, who would not identify himself, said the family was not available.

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 air strikes in Lebanon and a barrage of rockets fired at Israel by Hezbollah.

Friday night is the start of the Jewish Sabbath, and rabbis were trying to find out more about security in preparation for that night's services. Robert Jacobs, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, issued 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.

Kerlikowske said extra officers would be posted at temples, synagogues and mosques in the area even though Seattle police and the FBI believe the shooter acted alone.

He said police would be posted at mosques to prevent "retaliatory" crimes.

Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple De Hirsch Sinai had said he was checking with police to see if security there needed to be bolstered.

Several rabbis said Friday night they were continuing with services despite the shootings. "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 Friday evening that he was checking with police to see if more security would be needed for that evening's service.

Seattle Times staff reporters Mike Carter, Cara Solomon, Jennifer Sullivan, Cheryl Phillips, Brian Alexander, Ken Armstrong, Christine Clarridge, Sara Jean Green, Janet I. Tu, Jonathan Martin, Joe Mullin, Anne Kim and news researchers Miyoko Wolf and Gene Balk contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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