Florida’s Jewish community was in shock on Thursday after a gunman killed 17 children and injured dozens more at a secondary school with “a huge number” of Jews.
Early reports stated that one Jewish child had been killed and several badly wounded, with surgeons operating throughout the night, as the Jewish community in Parkland, Florida held a healing service.
Police identified the gunman as Nikolas Cruz, a former student, who walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, and began shooting. He was arrested after police stormed in.
Local media named one of the dead students as Jaime Guttenberg, who was Jewish, but by Thursday morning several other Jewish parents were being counselled because their children were still listed as ‘missing.’
In an evening press conference, Sheriff Scott Israel, the first Jewish person to serve as Sheriff in Florida, said 12 victims had been identified from the school, including an American football coach.
Rabbi Bradd Boxman of Kol Tikvah, a nearby Reform congregation, said he knew of at least four Jewish pupils among the wounded, including three from his congregation. “A huge number [of Jewish children] went to that school,” he said.
Health professionals who gathered at Kol Tikvah walked the students through the beginning stages of coping with the trauma, Boxman said, adding that the synagogue acted “as a place to come for refuge”.
Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan of the nearby Temple Beth Chai spent the evening at a local hotel with parents, two of whom had a child among the dead. “It’s chaos here,” he told JTA. “It’s chaos and devastation. Everyone is just waiting and praying. No words can describe what happened here.”