(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)
Four Jewish students and a teacher were confirmed Thursday to be among the 17 victims killed during a massacre at their Florida high school the day before.
The dead included four students — Jamie Guttenberg, Alyssa Alhadeff, Alex Schachter, Meadow Pollack — and teacher Scott Beigel, heralded for putting himself in the line of fire to save others.
The five deaths were reported by family members, friends, and community members. Rabbi Mendy Gutnick of Chabad of Parkland, who has been in touch with many of the families of those killed and injured, confirmed the five deaths to The Times of Israel.
A former student, identified as Nikolas Cruz, armed with an AR-15 rifle, opened fire at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, officials said, in a harrowing shooting spree that saw terrified students hiding in closets and under desks as they texted for help.
Broward County officials said they would release a full list of victims later Thursday.
The Jewish community in Parkland was reeling over the massacre at the large school, with many members of the community belonging to the student body.
Rabbi Melissa Stollman, a rabbi at Congregation Kol Tikvah, a reform temple in Parkland, spent Thursday meeting with students and their families. “One student expressed how she heard something and she ran. She got out really fast and she ran far away. But other students were locked in closets for two and a half hours, not knowing what was going on,” she told The Times of Israel.
Rabbi Bradd Boxmann, also a rabbi at Kol Tivkah, said a “huge number” of congregants attended the school.
Guttenberg’s mother, Jennifer Guttenberg, was a specialist teacher in the synagogue’s pre-school, working with children to develop handwriting skills. Stollman’s two twins are in her class.
Guttenberg’s father announced her death in post to his Facebook page in which he wrote “My heart is broken. Yesterday, Jennifer Bloom Guttenberg and I lost our baby girl to a violent shooting at her school.”
Jamie’s own Facebook page was changed to “Remembering.”
The death of Alhadeff, 15, was announced by her mother Lori, in a post to her Facebook page. “My daughter Alyssa was killed today by a horrific act of violence,” Lori Alhadeff wrote.
Just two weeks ago, the Alhadeff family celebrated Alyssa’s brother’s bar mitzvah, which Gutnick officiated. The rabbi said that Alyssa had attended the local Chabad’s Hebrew School and teen programs. She flew to Israel in 2015 to have her bat mitzvah at the Masada desert fortress.
“It’s absolutely shocking,” Gutnick said. “I’ve been with that family most of the day today. No words really to say to them. There are no mechanisms we have to process this.”
On Thursday night, the families of children who were missing were told to wait at a local Marriott while more information came to light. Gutnick was there with some of the Jewish families who had not gotten in touch with their kids.
“Families obviously began to fear the worst as no news was coming about their children. Twenty families and their friends were gathered in one big room for seven hours while they waited to hear confirmation,” he said. “Finally, one by one, they were all told the worst news. You can imagine just the absolutely gut-wrenching feeling and emotional numbness that was taking place. It was devastating.”
On Wednesday night, Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan of nearby Temple Beth Chai described the scene at the hotel as “chaos and devastation.”
“Everyone is just waiting and praying. No words can describe what happened here,” he told JTA.
The parents of Pollack, 18, said Thursday morning that their daughter too was a victim, the Palm Beach Post reported. The night before, her father Andrew had spoken to the press of his harrowing search for his daughter.
Congregation Beth Am, in Longwood, Florida, in a post to its Facebook page, wrote that Alex Schachter was also killed in the shooting.
Beigel, a geography teacher, was also confirmed killed in media reports. Camp Starlight, a camp where he had worked, called him a “beloved friend and a hero.”
Students said Beigel tried to lock the door to the classroom where students were hiding to prevent the shooter from entering, but was gunned down.
Rabbi Shuey Biston of Chabad of Parkland said rabbis have coordinated with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to ensure that the bodies of any Jewish victims be released for burial as soon as possible, in keeping with Jewish tradition.
According to the rabbis, several teens who were in the school and survived the shooting came to the Thursday morning prayers to recite a traditional blessing giving thanks for salvation from a life-threatening event.
“This is a very close-knit community,” Gutnick said. “It’s a very high-density Jewish community, as well. Demographically, it’s one that always felt very pristine and sort of protected from any bad news or any crime or anything like that. It’s one of the safest cities in America. And this has changed the whole city. We’ve lost our innocence.”
He went on, “There is just a feeling of absolute numbness. Kids don’t know what to do, they don’t know what to think. Every single kid is traumatized. The emotional scarring on this city is absolutely devastating and people are hoping that we can come together and we can show solidarity and somehow manage to move on. But the truth is this city will never be the same.”
Agencies contributed to this report.
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