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Community Center a Horror Scene

August 11, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Isabelle Shalometh was at the reception counter when the gunman strode into the Jewish community center and wordlessly started pulling the trigger on his semiautomatic weapon.

Shalometh, 68, dove behind the counter as bullets shredded a stack of papers on a desk, grazed her back and arm and hammered into the walls.

``She saw him coming at her _ and he just started firing,″ Shalometh’s daughter, Lucille Shalometh Goldin, told the Daily News of Los Angeles. ``She knew enough to get down and crawl into the back office.″

Shalometh, who has worked at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in suburban Granada Hills for almost 20 years, was one of five people wounded in the attack Tuesday. She wasn’t seriously hurt, but a 5-year-old boy hit by more than one slug remained in critical condition early today after hours of surgery. Also wounded were two 6-year-old boys who had started summer camp at the center this week, and a 16-year-old girl.

The gunman, identified by police as Buford Furrow, 37, slipped away from a huge manhunt.

The scene outside the center in the suburban San Fernando Valley was disturbingly familiar: frightened parents huddled nervously behind yellow police tape, waiting to find out if their children survived a gunman’s rampage.

Good news was shouted from parent to parent across the neatly cropped yards of the normally quiet, middle-class neighborhood.

``He’s OK! He’s OK!″ one mother yelled when she learned the fate of her son.

Parents and staff at the center counted their blessings that many of the older children were away on field trips during the mid-morning rampage. They marveled that more people weren’t hurt by an estimated 70 bullets sprayed indiscriminately around the center by the man who finished shooting and walked away, just four minutes ahead of the police.

In seconds, a setting of swimming lessons, art classes and summer fun turned into a scene filled with random horror. Police said bullet holes were at the same level at the little desks used by children.

Maintenance man Victor Reolas was in a classroom when he heard a noise he thought was an explosion in the kitchen. ``Then I realized it was shooting,″ Reolas told the Los Angeles Times.

Reolas ran into another room where he found several terrified children lying on the floor, including an injured boy he carried outside.

Program director Elaine Wynstock was walking back from an errand to buy day-old bread for the homeless when she saw a center worker lying protectively on a wounded teen-ager.

``She was bleeding pretty bad. He said, `Don’t go in, just drop down,‴ Wynstock said. ``The police came and they told us to run away.″

Frantic parents heard the news on TV or were summoned from work by friends who had heard. They gathered behind a police line, waiting to hear their children’s names announced by a firefighter with a bullhorn.

Most of the children were evacuated to a neighboring temple that shares a building with an Episcopal church.

Fourteen frightened preschoolers and teachers took refuge next door to the Jewish center in the Rinaldi Convalescent Hospital, said administrator David Hibarger.

The staff fed them grilled cheese sandwiches and orange juice, said Hibarger, who reported: ``They’re sitting on the floor and one of the counselors is playing the piano.″

Karen Macofsky, 41, said she drove to the center in a panic after learning of the shooting. As it turned out, her son Michael, 11, was away, touring the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles with other older children when the shots were fired.

``I wanted to cry when I saw him,″ she said. ``But I held back and just hugged him tightly.″

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