Three dead in Jewish Community Center shooting, students react

Kat Flaherty

Three victims were confirmed dead after shots were fired at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom around 1 p.m. today. The shooter was taken into police custody at Valley Park Elementary near 123rd and Nall, heard yelling antisemetic remarks. Both areas went into lockdown.

The suspect is a 70-year-old man whose name has not been released yet, as Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass stated in a press release. The FBI is assisting the Police Department with the investigation and authorities are still investigating whether or not this is a hate crime.

“It’s too early in the investigation to label it,” Douglass said. “We know it’s a vicious act of violence…but we are going to have to know more about it to make that assumption.”

Senior Brandon Seepersad witnessed the shooting personally. He went to JCC to audition for the second round of the KC Superstar competition. Minutes after he arrived, he heard a loud noise and was was told by directors of JCC programs to rush into the audition room, which is in the middle of the center. He sat in the audition room for about one and a half hours while the center was on lockdown.

“A lot of kids were crying and freaking out,” Seepersad said. “We were also getting updates from our phones. We knew someone had died and that there was a second shooting up the street. A lot of the adults were in shock and the kids were anxious because of the commotion. Some of the older kids realized what was going on, but there was a lot of confusion because, for most of the time, we didn’t even know what was going on with the shooter.”

According to Douglass, there is no evidence that the shooter personally knew any of the victims, but police are continuing to obtain more information. The Police Department has dispatched vehicles to secure and survey all the active Jewish facilities within the city and many other religious institutions.

“The community center has really worked hard to maintain a safe environment and we’ve worked with them,” Douglass said. “It is somewhat a personal tragedy.”

When senior Megan Palasz, an employee of JCC, heard of the shooting, she immediately drove by and was shocked by the chaos. Palasz said she was scared to find out who was injured and is thankful no employees were hurt.

“I work there every day and am so close to so many people,” Palasz said. “It does make me nervous to think I work tomorrow, but at the same time, it could have happened anywhere. It’s an eye opener. Just because we live in the “bubble” doesn’t mean nothing bad happens.”

Senior Sophia Brez, who started working at JCC last December, said she thinks the shooting is unreal because when tragedies like this occur,  it is difficult to believe that they actually did happen.

“It’s probably going to affect a lot of people there,” Brez said. “I work with the little kids and I know a lot of them are shaken up because of it. I’m sure they knew the people. I think it’s just going to shake up their entire place and everyone is just going to be more scared and realize stuff like this does happen.”

Seepersad said the shootings have made him more nervous because they were a random act. He believes anybody could be put into a situation like this.

“If something like this were to ever happen again, the best thing you can do is stay calm and not freak out and hope for the best,” Seepersad said. “With stuff like this, you can’t really stop it. There are always going to be crazy people in the world whether we like it or not. It’s a pretty awful thing.”

All JCC programs, classes and other activities are canceled for the rest of the day. Stay updated with the center on its Facebook page.

Community members gathered later at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church for a service honoring those who were impacted by the shooting. The service had a variety of speakers; from a representative from the governors office, local priests, pastors and rabbis, witnesses to the shooting, and a daughter and mother of two of the victims. The event was full of prayer and calls to rise above and love one another, most of which was witnessed through tear filled eyes.

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