Tragedy struck in the capital's Rehavia neighborhood on Monday afternoon, when a three-year-old girl was hit and killed by a minibus that had dropped her off across the street from her home.
The driver left the scene of the accident, which occurred around 2:30 p.m. near the corner of Ussishkin and Haran streets. Police labeled the incident a hit and run, but when the driver was apprehended about 30 minutes later, he told investigators that he had been unaware the girl had been hit.
The girl, Shula Swerdloff, was the youngest of four children born to American parents who have been in Israel for a number of years as Chabad emissaries. According to neighbors, the family had just recently come back from spending the High Holy Days in America, but the father had not yet returned.
Swerdloff's eight-year-old brother Avraham had been waiting for his sister on the sidewalk when the minibus pulled up, and saw the accident.
Neighbors described the boy yelling hysterically, "My sister! He hit her!" as passersby ran to help the girl. Police said the driver's testimony would be checked against the brother's.
Police also said that young children being transported in minibuses were supposed to be escorted by chaperone off the vehicle and onto the sidewalk. No chaperone was present on Monday, and police said their investigation would also include the transport company's apparent failure to provide one.
Neighbors and passersby gathered at the site, which police had cordoned off with red tape.
"I was one of the first to arrive on the scene," said a young American who studies at a nearby yeshiva. "We heard screaming, and we thought maybe there was a robbery happening, because there have been a number of robberies here in the past.
"When I got out to the street, there were just a few people trying to help the girl, but it was pretty clear that nothing could be done. The driver was nowhere to be seen."
Ze'ev Sofer, a volunteer with the United Hatzala first-response organization, told The Jerusalem Post that he had been among the first medics to arrive and had begun administering first aid to Swerdloff.
"She was in critical condition when we got here. She had no pulse and wasn't breathing," Sofer said. "We did what we could, but it was too late. She was taken to the trauma unit at Hadassah Ein-Kerem Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
"You see a lot of things in this line of work," he said. "But to see a little girl lying in the street like that - it's just shocking. It's a horrible thing to see."
People stood on the sidewalk, gazing silently at a bloodstain in the street.
"It's just such a tragedy," one woman said. "With these kinds of things, you really have to hold onto your faith, because it's so hard to understand how or why something like this could happen."
Also on Monday, a 12-year-old boy was badly injured when he ran into the street near the capital's Liberty Bell Park and was struck by a car. The driver in that incident stopped, and was cooperating with police. The boy was also taken to to Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Kerem.
A 14-year-old girl accompanied by her mother arrived at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center with light injuries. According to police, the mother said the girl had been struck on Rehov Tchernichovsky by a Mazda that fled the scene.