Seattle Jews recovering from attack

Pamela Waechter, 58, killed, five others wounded after Muslim man opened fire.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The Seattle Jewish community is in shock after a shooting spree at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle left one dead and five wounded on Friday. A man declared, "I'm a Muslim American; I'm angry at Israel," before opening fire, according to witnesses. He was soon apprehended by police and later identified as 30-year-old Naveed Afzal Haq, a US citizen of Pakistani origin. Seattle police said they had directed their officers to closely monitor the city's synagogues and other Jewish institutions following the attack, but that they believed Haq had acted alone. The attack is apparently being investigated as a hate crime. "This was a purposeful, hateful act, as far as we know by an individual acting alone," said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels at a news conference, adding, "This is a crime of hate." The FBI and the Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force have been called in to help investigate the case. The murder victim was identified Saturday as Pamela Waechter, 58, a top official at the federation. Five other women caught in the attack remained hospitalized Saturday. Three of them were upgraded from critical to serious condition following surgery, and two were in satisfactory condition. Approximately 10 people were in the federation's offices in downtown Seattle, Washington, when the shooting began close to 4 p.m. The number was far less than usual, as workers were already starting to leave to prepare for the Sabbath. Robin Boehler, chair of the federation's board, said most synagogues were operating as normal on Saturday. She said that no specific threats had been received before the shooting or since, but that she expected security to be beefed up at Jewish institutions. "Shock is the prevailing emotion that people are feeling right now. Dismay, a lot of sadness and a lot of frustration that this was so senseless and didn't need to happen," Boehler told The Jerusalem Post by telephone. Paul Burstein, member of the planning and allocations committee for the federation, also speaking to the Post by phone, said that his Conservative synagogue had canceled services in the wake of the shooting. He called the event "completely shocking and terrifying," adding that the 40,000-member Seattle Jewish community is "fairly inconspicuous." "There was security at the entrance to the building, just like there is anywhere [in the Jewish world]. But nobody would ever have expected anything like this." Burstein described Waechter, the federation's director of development, as "a very active, dynamic, upbeat person who was liked and respected." Waechter grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as a Lutheran and converted after marrying Bill Waechter, with whom she had two children and later divorced. She served two terms as president of her synagogue, Temple B'nai Torah. Boehler stressed the Jewish community's "good relations" with Seattle's Muslims and noted that they had "strongly condemned" the killing soon after it happened. Seattle police said that in the days before the shooting they had told Jewish centers to show extra vigilance due to the violence in Israel and Lebanon, and that they were posting officers at mosques to prevent "retaliatory" crimes. A bail hearing, in which prosecutors were expected to ask that bail be put at several million dollars, was set to take place Saturday afternoon. Haq reportedly had a history of mental instability and had previously been charged with lewd conduct. Last week the Jewish community of Seattle staged a rally in support of Israel that attracted some 2,000 demonstrators, including many local politicians. A Muslim protest against Israel held the same day was "much smaller," according to Burstein. Jewish Agency head Ze'ev Bielski noted the connection between events in Israel and Seattle when he said Saturday evening, "Just as Jews in the world are standing beside Israel in these difficult times, we in Israel stand beside the Jews of Seattle. The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for all North American federations, issued a statement Friday. "Our federation colleagues so unmercifully and viciously attacked were spending their day as they normally do, providing for social and humanitarian services that benefited all of metropolitan Seattle. The hatred and violence visited upon them today offends the values that drove their work and passion for improving their neighbors' lives," UJC CEO Howard Rieger said. "We ask everyone who shares these values to pray and hope for the comfort of the victims and their families." Witnesses said 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 a woman who works in the building and had heard the account from the wounded co-worker. 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 attacker surrendered about 15 minutes after the shooting started. Federation employee Marla Meislin-Dietrich said security videotapes showed the gunman shoving his way past an employee who had just entered a pass code to open a security door. "He was armed and he pushed his way in," she said. Burstein, the chair of the University of Washington's Jewish studies program, said he couldn't recall there ever being a violent attack on the area's Jewish community, though there had been incidents of vandalism. Burstein, whose son lives in Israel, said Friday's attack "shows in a very, very devastating way the extent to which Jews all around the world are linked to each other - for better or worse." The Associated Press contributed to this report.