Jewish Federation shooting survivors look outward, inward
Seattle Times staff reporter
KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
ERIC KAYNE / THE SEATTLE TIMES
KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES
The survivorsAll but one of the five women wounded in last year's shootings at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle have returned to work.
Layla Bush is still recovering from her wounds after suffering nerve damage to her right leg. She is working part time as office coordinator for the federation.
Carol Goldman is still in recovery after months of physical therapy. She is working as a full-time campaign coordinator at the federation.
Dayna Klein declined to comment. She has not returned to work.
Christina Rexroad declined to comment. She is working part time as payroll bookkeeper and benefits coordinator at the federation.
Cheryl Stumbo plans to participate in a triathlon next month. She is working part time as marketing and communications director for the federation.
Source: Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle
For Layla Bush, it was when doctors removed the bullet that had been lodged in her spine for seven months.
For Dayna Klein, it was giving birth to a healthy baby boy in November. Charley Klein's middle name is Paz, Spanish for "peace."
And for Carol Goldman, it's been the small, incremental victories that come from learning to walk again.
The past year has brought a series of markers along a long and difficult road to recovery for the survivors of the mass shooting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle — with some literally learning to put one foot in front of the other. All but one of the five wounded women are back at work, from a few hours every week to full time.
Even the building where a gunman stalked the halls last July 28 has seen a complete overhaul, thanks to an unprecedented outpouring of financial support. From the bank of bulletproof glass at street level, to added security doors, to the wall-mounted police pager at the back of the office, every inch of the building has been renovated with safety — and a fresh start — in mind.
"I couldn't have gone back if it looked the same, but I can hardly recognize it," said Goldman, who is still recovering from a gunshot to her knee. Never far from the thoughts of those who survived the shootings — wounded and unscathed alike — is the sunny Friday afternoon when a man forced his way into their offices with a semiautomatic handgun and began shooting. The man announced he was a Muslim American and was angry with Israel.
"Like any trauma you go through, there are peaks and valleys afterwards," federation employee Tammy Kaiser said of the mood around the office. "This week just happens to be a low point."
When the shooting stopped, five women were wounded and federation fundraising director Pamela Waechter, 58, was dead.
Naveed Afzal Haq, a man with a history of mental illness, was arrested and charged with the shootings. In December, late King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng chose not to seek the death penalty against Haq after reviewing a decade's worth of mental-health treatment records.
Haq has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 20 charges, including aggravated first-degree murder and five counts of attempted first-degree murder. He is scheduled for trial in January.
In the days after the attack, the city's Muslim leaders reached out to their Jewish counterparts, emphasizing that the shootings were the act of a deranged individual and had no place in the community.
More than 1,000 Jews, Muslims and Christians gathered at Waechter's funeral to remember her life and celebrate a faith that had crossed the boundaries of religion. Waechter, who was raised as a Lutheran in Minneapolis, converted to Judaism after marrying and became a dynamic force in Seattle's Jewish community after arriving in 1979.
"There has been an amazing response from the community at large," said Kalindi Kunis, a friend of Waechter's and a former federation employee. "It's served in some ways to reinvigorate her work. But there's a void that has not been filled by any stretch of the imagination."
Federation officials say they have moved forward with a renewed sense of purpose in the past year. Despite understaffing, the organization reported a record $6.2 million in donations to its annual campaign, which raises money for distribution to charities locally, in Israel and worldwide. Two-thirds of its contributions go to local social-service agencies.
This year's record proceeds came in addition to more than $1 million raised in the four months after July's shooting for a complete renovation of the federation's building.
"The building used to be a maze," recalled Goldman, thinking back to the room where she dialed 911 to report the rampage. "I remember being on the phone with the dispatcher, trying to explain where I was and thinking, 'They're never going to find me.' "
More welcoming office
The dim hallways have given way to an expansive common work space lit by massive windows on three walls. In place of acoustic tiles hanging 8 feet overhead are refurbished beams of 100-year-old Douglas fir towering twice as high.
"It's an open, airy, welcoming place that's still secure," said outreach coordinator Kim Greenhall. "No one works in a Jewish organization without safety concerns. And that's no different for us now. We upgraded our technology to what's available today, but it doesn't mean we change our lives."
In response to the attack, Jewish organizations throughout the Northwest have installed security systems in the past year or are raising funds to do so, said Robert Jacobs, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Jacobs said that ongoing vandalism at some of the region's synagogues and the outpouring of vitriol after the Christmas-tree controversy at the Sea-Tac Airport last year indicate a simmering anti-Semitism. Individuals who mistakenly thought Jewish leaders had requested the removal of the airport's trees flooded Jacobs with "the most vile e-mails," he said.
"I saw the kind of thought process that makes me worry someone may someday carry a gun into one of these organizations again," Jacobs said. "We just need to stay vigilant and be prepared."
In April, the state Legislature earmarked $900,000 for security upgrades at the federation and other Jewish organizations in the state that offer secular human services.
But the federation didn't stop with the closed-circuit cameras and bulletproof glass at the sidewalk. With nearly $1.3 million raised from a number of first-time donors, the organization remodeled its entire office and reception area, even tearing out and redesigning the stairs in the foyer where Waechter was gunned down.
While several survivors expressed gratitude for a work space that helped them start over, some, like Bush, said that visiting the old office a final time was the best way to come to terms with the shooting and move on.
"I found the hole in the wall where one of the bullets went through my shoulder and into the wall," Bush recalled of her visit just a month and a half after the shooting. "It felt weird, but I got my closure."
Bush, 24, who was the youngest and most severely wounded, got a little more closure in February when surgeons finally removed a bullet that had damaged her stomach, spleen, pancreas, liver and kidney before shattering her spinal column. "The bullet went through just about every organ it could," Bush said. "My left kidney is not doing so well, but I've got two kidneys, so it's not a big deal."
Bush said joking about therapy with her fellow survivors has been an essential part of healing.
Now that she's out of her wheelchair, Bush hopes to get into the renovated office more often, despite lingering nerve sensitivity in her legs and a general lack of energy that comes with rehabilitation.
"I'm not going to be running any marathons," she said, "but I wasn't planning to anyways."
Survivor Cheryl Stumbo, on the other hand, has spent more than a year planning for next month's Danskin Triathlon. She had been training for her first swim-bike-and-run in the event last year when the shooting left her in critical condition.
Within a month, though, she was receiving care at home and going to the gym every day. Crossing the finish line Aug. 19 will fulfill a long-postponed promise.
"I'm not racing," Stumbo said, "I'm just doing this for myself, for the achievement."
Kaiser wasn't injured by the gunman's bullets but fled through a second-story window when she heard him at the door. When she leaped from the window, her hair caught on a latch that tore part of it out. She had to cut her waist-length locks due to reconstructive surgery, but her hair has grown down her shoulders again and she's not cutting it anytime soon.
"I want my hair back," Kaiser said. "Last night I had a dream that I had all my hair. I think that's the way I've connected a year later."
A solemn anniversary
Federation staff and volunteers plan to gather Friday in a private observance of the shooting anniversary. No formal gathering is being planned since the anniversary falls on the Jewish Sabbath.
Several of the women recovering from year-old wounds say they are taking the anniversary to look forward as much as backward.
"It's given me the opportunity to think about my priorities," said Bush, who intends to enroll at Seattle University to work toward a master's degree in public administration, in the hopes of running a nonprofit like the Jewish Federation.
"I'm hoping to do something good," she said. "There's all this hate in the world, and it's such a shame. If I can make one person feel less of that hate, my life will be worth something."
Brad Haynes: 206-464-3301 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company