"Here I am. I'm a Jew. I'm hunted."
Seattle Times staff reporter
As a gunman walked through the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle just after 4 p.m. Friday, shooting one woman after another, employee Tammy Kaiser crouched beneath her desk in her office.
She had heard popping noises in quick succession, interspersed with long moments of silence.
She knelt beside a box of materials she uses in her work as a volunteer finding Holocaust survivors and reuniting them with family.
"Here I am. I'm a Jew. I'm hunted," she remembers thinking.
At the same time, Kaiser, 33, kept thinking her infant son was there with her, hanging from his bouncy swing in the doorway. She usually brought him in for a couple of hours on Friday afternoons. But today he was at day care. Only she kept forgetting that.
At one point, she started making a plan: She was going to put her son in a blue plastic file box and lower him somehow out the second-floor window. "I kept having to tell myself, 'It's OK, he's not here. It's OK.' "
The gunshots kept coming closer. She heard "tons of screaming," then footsteps.
She got up from beneath her desk.
The doorknob to her office started to jiggle.
"I thought if it was police, they would be banging and yelling, 'Police!'; and if it was one of my colleagues, they'd be banging and screaming," she said. "That was the concern. It was just silence. It was just too calm.
"That was just my wake-up call to get out."
She opened the window as far as she could, squeezed out and lowered herself until she was hanging by her hands from the window ledge.
But her long hair got caught. Kaiser hung on, her hair entangled in the window latch. She hung there for about 30 seconds, scraping her head and face.
She worried that the gunman would come to the window and shoot her in the head.
She let go, yanked at her hair and fell free of the window. The latch broke off and came down with her.
She landed on top of an overflowing trash bin and slid down the lid, cutting and bruising her legs.
At first, she saw a parking attendant inside his stand and banged on his window, but he didn't see her. So she ran around to the back of the building. There, she saw her friend and federation bookkeeper Christina Rexroad lying on the ground, bleeding.
She dropped down to help a co-worker and a police officer tend to Rexroad. Kami Knatt, who had fled through the federation's back door, took off her sweatshirt and pressed it to Rexroad's abdomen. Kaiser asked the police officer if she should take off her skirt and use it to help staunch Rexroad's bleeding. Just as he nodded, paramedics showed up with gauze and took over.
Seattle police took Kaiser to police headquarters. While there, she asked for Tylenol because her legs hurt. For the first time, she realized she was injured.
From there, she was moved to Harborview Medical Center, where she stayed until about midnight. She has lacerations and bruises but is OK.
Kaiser, who runs adult-education programs for the federation, agreed to tell her story after being contacted by The Seattle Times.
She declined to discuss her colleagues, saying she wanted to protect their privacy.
As she left the hospital Friday night, Kaiser said she felt guilty. She was walking away while her co-workers were still in the hospital.
Five of Kaiser's colleagues were wounded by the gunman after he forced his way into the federation building, declaring his anger at Jews and Israel. A sixth woman, Pamela Waechter, 58, was killed. Other workers fled to safety out the back door of the building.
"Don't discharge me. I don't want to leave," Kaiser remembers thinking.
Since then, she's remembered other things. At one point, a police officer asked her where her shoes were. She had no idea. Now, she realizes she lost the sandals during her fall. She remembers landing on her toe and it bending backward.
She still has to remind herself that her 7-month-old son is OK. She checks on him frequently. Her two other children, an 8-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl, are fine. Her daughter drew a picture of her flying.
Kaiser lost a Star of David pendant she was wearing Friday. She's searched around the trash bin where she landed and can't find it.
She's retrieved her car from the parking garage. But she hasn't gone into the building for her wallet, her cellphone and other belongings.
She credits the Jewish Family Services with excellent counseling in the hours and days after the shooting.
Many other employees of the federation who weren't there on Friday came immediately to the scene or to the hospital to comfort their co-workers.
"It's a very close-knit family at the federation and it really, really came through that day," Kaiser said.
Cheryl Phillips: 206-464-2411 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company