Funerals for the 20 6- and 7-year-old victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting took place this week, beginning on Monday with the burial of Noah Pozner.
Pozner, the youngest and only reported Jewish victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, was gunned down alongside his classmates and six school employees last Friday, when Adam Lanza, 20, infiltrated the school. Lanza killed himself at the school.
The event was termed an “unconscionable evil” by President Barack Obama.
Throughout the week, scores of supporters from across the country and around the world expressed their condolences. Israeli President Shimon Peres wrote in a statement that on behalf of the people of Israel, “we stand with you … in contemplation and grief over the atrocious, incomprehensible massacre. … No experience with death can be likened to that of a parents’ loss of their child. No crime is more heinous than the killing of a child.”
On Twitter, young people nationwide, called on their classmates to wear green and white this week, the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
At the time of this writing, investigators were examining forensic evidence and scouring the crime scene in a process likely to extend for weeks. Reports did indicate that evidence found on Lanza’s computer could provide a motive. Friends and acquaintances of the family have indicated that Lanza was mentally ill and had Asperger’s, and many are noting they are not surprised that he was the culprit of this heinous crime.
As of Monday afternoon, the facts that are known are these: On Friday morning, Dec. 14, Lanza shot Nancy Lanza in the face at the home they shared in Newton. He then drove her car to the elementary school. Clothed in black combat gear, he blasted into the school and gunned down his victims.
Police reported that he used a Bushmaster semiautomatic assault-style rifle to kill his victims and a handgun to take his own life.
The school had recently installed a new security system.
What If …
Sandy Hook’s security system could not stop Lanza.
Forever, Jewish day schools in Baltimore have had plans and procedures in place to handle emergencies. But until tragedy strikes, it is hard to know just how solid those security measures really are.
Whether last Friday’s massacre will result in upgrades or tightening of any of Baltimore’s systems remains to be seen. Still, leaders of several local schools stressed that the Sandy Hook tragedy reinforced the need to always be prepared for the worst.
Gerry Chizeck, head of The Day School at Baltimore Hebrew, said her school has systems in place to deal with everything from acts of violence to natural disasters. At the same time, she added, the school is always exploring ways of improving the security and safety of its students.
Chizeck sent out an email to parents on the day of the attack to assure them the school has a plan in place to handle such situations.
“Our building does have a lot of locked doors and security codes, so having emergency plans in addition to security and lockdown is important,” Chizeck said. “Just as we have plans for earthquake and fire and things of that nature, disaster plans have to be in place for such a horrific possibility.”
Chizeck said The Day School held a meeting between area police and school faculty while the event was still fresh in their minds.
David Prashker, head of school at The Shoshana S. Cardin High School, said they are constantly working on both evacuation and lockdown drills; the school is based at Oheb Shalom Congregation in Pikesville.
“It could be an intruder, a letter that arrived through the mail or a parcel, so we don’t talk about fire drills,” Prashker said. “We talk about evacuation drills recognizing there are many reasons you might leave.”
At Bais Yaakov School for Girls, Chief Operating Officer Sandy Nissel said his school tries to keep a low profile but has certainly checked in with police.
“We have consulted with security experts in law enforcement for strategies regarding what we can do to make our school as safe as possible. Our actions are geared to provid-ing the highest level of safety and security for our students and staff,” said Nissel.
At Talmudical Academy, parents received an email following the attack assuring them of their children’s safety.
“We have been, and will continue to be, diligent about monitoring our campus security at all times,” wrote Ari Krupp, chairman of the board at TA. “We regularly review all of our safety procedures with both staff and students. We also have lockdown procedures in place with periodic drills performed. … As well, we have been in contact with local law enforcement agencies and have asked for and been granted additional monitoring of our campus, especially during the high traffic periods of arrival and dismissal.”
Push For Gun Control
As area schools are working to ensure their students’ safety, local Jewish organizations have joined lawmakers in the push for tougher gun-control legislation.
Lanza reportedly used a Bushmaster .223 rifle and two handguns — a Glock 9mm and a SIG Sauer — during the attack. The guns were legally purchased by Lanza’s mother.
Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Dr. Arthur C. Abramson said his organization will lobby elected state and federal officials hard over the coming months on legislation that will ban assault rifles and weapons that contain high-volume magazine clips. In addition, the BJC will also advocate for sufficient access and availability to mental health care facilities for those who need them.
“Stopping the tragedy in Newtown would have been very difficult given the weapons the shooter used to blast his way through the school,” Abramson said. “Security measures appear to have been taken at the school, but all of that is useless if someone has that type of firepower. We need to start holding lawmakers accountable … with legislation to help minimize the chances of a similar event like this occurring.”
Karen Paikin Barell, director of community and government relations for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, echoed those concerns and said her organization has advocated for stringent gun-control laws at the federal level for about 20 years.
The JCRC hosted a security briefing Thursday, which allowed members of Washington-area schools, synagogues and other Jewish organizations to speak with police, receive additional security training and hear from a mental health professional on ways to detect whether someone is on the path of potential violence.
That briefing came on the same day that the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education held a similar briefing for educators in Baltimore at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC. That event included presentations from social workers and security experts seeking to help teachers deal with the emotional toll of the attack.
“Security is an issue of constant concern among Jewish organizations,” Barell said. “What happened in Connecticut is horrible, and we need to be mindful about exploring every way we can to stop it from happening again.”
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is among those who are willing to fight for tougher gun-control laws.
Kamenetz’s jurisdiction has inc-reased patrols at all Baltimore County public schools since September following the shooting of a special-needs student at Perry Hall High School and another incident in which a boy brought a gun into Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex.
At a news conference with Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson on Monday, Kamenetz announced that he wrote an open letter to all Maryland’s state and federal officials urging they take immediate action on gun-safety measures. This would include eliminating exceptions to national background checks, halting the sale of military-grade assault weapons and ending the sale of high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
“Why does any person need access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” Kamenetz wrote. “These are weapons of war, not for personal use … Let’s make something clear right from the beginning: Such a discussion is not an assault on the Second Amendment. It is an assault on assault weapons.”
Preparation Is Key
The Jewish Federations of North America is not willing to wait.
JFNA is pushing for additional sec-urity funds and training opportunities for those within the Jewish community. Earlier this year, JFNA helped secure $9.7 million in grants through the Department of Homeland Security’s Non-Profit Security Grant Program. Of that, more than $300,000 went to Maryland Jewish groups.
“We feel a great sense of loss for those families in Newtown,” said Robert Goldberg, senior director of legislative affairs for JFNA. “Incidents like this are something the Jewish community across the world is all too familiar with, which is why the issue of security is something we are always beating the drum about to lawmakers.”
JFNA also funds the Security Community Network, which addresses matters of communal safety and security on a national level.
In September, SCN coordinated an event with the Department of Homeland Security that included more than 80 top Jewish leaders. There, participants took part in exercises that simulated terrorist attacks while also being briefed on security policies and strategies to prevent and respond to an attack.
SCN is also set to release a tool kit that will allow Jewish organizations within the Federation system to conduct security simulations at their own facilities.
“We want to empower our communities to help them remain open for business,” said Goldenberg. “We are about providing resources and tools through training and how to identify and report potential threats. Technology is great, but it means nothing if you don’t have a plan in place.”
See related story, “Spiritual Guidance”