LOS ANGELES – When children are targeted in a shooting rampage, the circle of
victims extends far beyond the wounded and the dead.
This tragic lesson,
which the families of the 20 first-graders killed at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook
Elementary School a week ago are now facing, was painfully learned 13 years ago
by the parents of youngsters whom a white supremacist wounded at a Jewish
community center in the Los Angeles suburb of Granada Hills.
instances, parents must cope not only with their own grief, but also with the
frightening impact on the victims’ brothers and sisters.
On August 10,
1999, neo-Nazi Bufford Furrow Jr. walked into the North Valley Jewish Community
Center and started spraying the school grounds with bullets. He wounded three
boys, aged five and six, along with a teenage girl and an adult
Bullets penetrated the hip and leg of six-year-old Joshua
Stepakoff, son of Loren Lieb and Alan Stepakoff, as he was playing at the
When Lieb arrived at the hospital, “at first I had no idea what to
do next,” she recalled this week. She remembers the hospital counselor urging
her not to probe and prod Joshua with questions, but instead to take her cues
from the boy.
Another piece of advice was to avoid loud noises whenever
possible, such as those from helicopters and emergency vehicle
Lieb followed the advice, but even without conversation, there
were external signs of how the incident had affected her son. Every evening, he
would check whether the doors and windows were locked and closed, and at night
he insisted that all the lights be kept on in his bedroom.
It took a few
years until he was ready to talk to his parents, telling them, “I have bad
thoughts I can’t get out of my head.” He subsequently got help through
Joshua, now 19 and a college student, is fully
recovered physically, but when new shootings break into the news, they refuel
some of the old traumas.
“My advice to other parents would be to be
supportive of your children, show that you love them, and always be ready to
listen to them,” Lieb said.
Donna and David Finkelstein’s daughter Mindy
was 16 and on her first job as a summer counselor at the JCC when Furrow shot
her in the leg.
As a teenager, and as a girl, she reacted differently
than Joshua had.
“We talked constantly about what had happened, her
emotions and her sense of safety,” recalled her mother. Mindy’s sister Jodi, who
is four years older, took part in the discussions, and the girls’ parents were
careful to pay equal attention to both daughters.
To the Finkelstein
family, it was obvious that the attack was a hate crime directed specifically
against Jews. One effect was that Jodi stopped wearing the Star of David that
had always dangled from her neck.
Both Lieb and Donna Finkelstein are
active in the Brady Center and the Women’s Campaign, both dedicated to
preventing gun violence.
“One reason [for my support] is that I want to
show my kids that I’m trying to protect them and make changes, rather than just
sit at home,” Finkelstein said.
Even for parents whose children escaped
injury at the JCC shooting, the memories of the day still haunt them, and have
triggered life changes for some.
Richard Macales was at his job at the
University of California, Los Angeles, when his mother called him, citing a
radio report about a shooting at the JCC.
While a colleague drove him
from UCLA to the site of the shooting, Macales, an Orthodox Jew, recited Psalms.
He offered up the same prayers when he heard of the Connecticut massacre 13
After a frantic search, Macales found his
three-and-a-half-year-old son David, who had somehow struck out on his own and
was sitting quietly at a curb.
At home, Macales and his then-wife Beverly
had to cope not only with David’s problems, but also those of their younger son
Aaron and older children Chava and Shmuel.
What carried the family
through, Macales said, were their deep religious faith and their long-discussed
plan to make aliya and settle in Israel.
After the JCC shooting, the
family decided to turn that plan into reality, and a year later, they moved to
In 2000, the Macaleses settled in Jerusalem, where Richard
became a feature writer for The Jerusalem Post and now serves as a member of the
selection committee for the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in
What riles him most is the preaching from some religious
leaders, of different faiths, that illness, misfortune or disasters are somehow
“divine retribution” for shortcomings or offenses that the affected individual
or his community committed.
“I emphasize to my children that a tragedy
should not be looked upon as something that is deserved,” he said, and that
doing so “is the height of cruelty.”