Gunman eludes police after shooting 5 at Jewish community center
Possible connection to carjacking
August 10, 1999
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- A man with a high-powered gun remained at large several hours after he stormed into the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills shortly before 11 a.m. PT on Tuesday and sprayed the lobby with 20-to-30 rounds, wounding three young children, a teen-ager and an adult.
Homicide detectives and crime scene technicians are combing the community center for clues to the gunman's identity and motive.
Heavily armed police from several agencies fanned out in the area using helicopters and tracking dogs to search for the gunman, last seen fleeing the center on foot.
Residents were told to stay in their homes with the doors locked as some 250 officers did door-to-door and car-to-car searches of a one-square-mile area that is highly residential.
Police said they were "aggressively pursuing" any connection between the shooting and a nearby carjacking. The hijacked car has been spotted at a motel in Los Angeles, police said.
"We have SWAT units at that location," said Police Cmdr. David Kalish. "We haven't verified that the carjacking was related to this crime (the Jewish Center shooting) but if it was, this could be a major break."
CNN's Greg LaMotte reported from the scene that the a hotel employee apparently tipped police.
Sixteen minutes after the shooting, near the Van Nuys airport, a gunman deserted a red van and stole a woman's 1999 dark-green, four-door Toyota Corolla, using a small semi-automatic weapon.
The carjacking victim, Isabelle Shalometh, suffered grazing bullet wounds to the arm and breast, hospital officials said, and was sent home at about 6:30 p.m. (9:30 p.m. ET).
Police searched the van and found four boxes of high-powered military ammunition -- about 2,000 shells in all -- including 9 mm magazines and boxes of assault weapon ammunition. They also found a flak jacket, a web belt for extra bullets, a knife, a canteen and a first aid kit.
Books on military and survival issues, pre-packaged freeze-dried food and three smoke grenades were also found in the van, police said.
The van had Washington state license plates and was sold last weekend in Tacoma. Police have not identified the new owner.
Police said a "nationwide manhunt" was under way for the shooting suspect, described as a bald white man, about 40, 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, wearing green clothing.
Investigators said the carjacker and Jewish center shooter may be the same man. The gunman in the carjacking was described as a "somewhat heavyset" white male.
Doctors fought to save the life of a 5-year-old boy who underwent emergency surgery for critical abdominal wounds; he also was shot in the leg and lost a lot of blood.
"He's extremely critical," said Dr. Charles Deng of the Providence-Holy Cross Medical Center. "We don't even know if he's going to survive the next few hours. Minute by minute now he's very critical ... one of the most critical cases we've ever seen here."
At Childrens Hospital, doctors removed two 9 mm bullets from the buttocks and the fractured left leg of a 6-year-old boy, listed in stable condition.
An 8-year-old boy, shot in the left foot, was listed in stable condition.
A 16-year-old girl, said to be a teacher's aide, was shot in the right thigh and shin and is described in stable condition.
The one adult wounded, a 68-year-old woman who has worked as a receptionist at the center for 13 years, is also in stable condition.
Her daughter, Lucille Goldin, said she rushed to the hospital and her mother was able to sit up and talk with her.
Isabelle Shalometh suffered grazing bullet wounds to the arm and breast, hospital officials said.
"She said that a young man, I guess in his 40s, walked in and she saw him coming at her, and I guess he just started open firing, and she knew enough to quickly duck down, and she did and crawled into the back office area where some of the other girls were," Goldin said.
Goldin said her mother said the gunman "wasn't anyone she knew or seemed to belong there."
Police evacuated other children from the grounds of the North Valley Jewish Community Center, which also includes a day care facility and summer camp, and searched for the gunman.
Jeff Rouss, director of the center, said at least 250 children were at the facility at the time of the shooting, while others -- a busload -- were on a field trip.
"We must do something about guns. We must stop this," Rouss said. "Let's protect our children. Let's let them be children."
The FBI dispatched members of its civil rights squad to the location to look into the possibility the shooting might have been a hate crime. Agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also were sent to the scene, an ATF spokesman in Washington said.
"There is a male on the loose who is very dangerous," said Los Angeles Police Sgt. John Pasquariello.
"The only thing I know for certain is an unknown gunman walked into this North Valley Jewish Community Center and indiscriminately fired his weapon," Pasquariello said.
"At this time, we are saying lone suspect. We do not know if there was more than one suspect at this point," he said.
Ruda said the gunman "sprayed the lobby and then walked down the short hallway ... He sprayed as he walked down the hallway, out of the building and then to the west."
Ruda said all the victims were shot in the lobby of the community center, where authorities found 20-30 shell casings that appeared to be 9 millimeter from a semi-automatic weapon.
"Paramedics found the worst case scenario for firefighters -- young children with gunshot wounds that are very extremely dangerous," Ruda said. "Firefighters were able to stabilize the children, stop the bleeding and get them to the local hospital."
Four policemen led a chain of 10 young children -- all holding hands -- from the shooting scene. Firefighters helped lead some of the children to safety and one was moved to tears by his tiny charges.
"They were very calm and orderly. They were angels. Their faces were very angelic, they were very wide-eyed as I looked and teared inside with them," Ruda said.
Concerned parents began arriving at the center within an hour after the shooting, but were taken to the nearby Temple Beth Torah to be reunited with their children.
"How do you explain to a 9-year-old child who loves coming to a camp at an after-school program that, 'You know what -- it's just not safe,'" said the mother of one of the children on the field trip. "You feel like a target."
The father of another of those children said: "Words cannot describe the type of circumstance that we have here. But until something is done ... these situations are going to continue to occur and everybody has got to stand up and say something and do something to stop it for our children, for our own lives."
One parent who broke police lines was handcuffed and briefly taken into custody.
"Once again, our nation has been shaken and our hearts torn by an act of gun violence," President Bill Clinton said during a brief statement Tuesday evening at the White House. He also offered his thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families.
Earlier, Vice President Al Gore offered Los Angeles federal assistance in capturing the gunman.
"This is a sad day for the city of Los Angeles," Mayor Richard Riordan said at a news conference.
California Gov. Gray Davis, a strong gun control advocate, offered to put up a $50,000 reward if it would help to capture the gunman responsible for the shooting.
"This is yet another example of a senseless barbaric act of violence against innocent children and defenseless adults," Davis said. He also urged people to work to get assault weapons off the street, saying they have no place on the streets of a civilized society.
The Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League released a statement at mid-afternoon expressing outrage at the attack.
"In light of the rash of hate crimes throughout the country, including the synagogue arsons in Sacramento and the shootings in the Midwest, today's shooting at a Jewish community center has understandably led many to conclude this horrific incident was motivated by anti-Semitism."
Correspondent Charles Feldman contributed to this report.
The Los Angeles Police Department
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