Jewish community of Toulouse was thrown into turmoil Monday morning, the peace
of the southwestern France city shattered by a gunman’s bullets. As police
counted shell casings, authorities released the names of the deceased, their
lives snuffed out just steps from the Ozar Hatorah high school when a man
riding a motorcycle opened fire.
In all, the
unnamed assailant – whom reports are saying may have had a hand in similar fatal
attacks recently on French soldiers in the area – claimed the lives of Jonathan
Sandler, a 30-year-old Judaic studies teacher at the school, his three-year-old
and six-year-old sons, and the second-grade daughter of another faculty member.
The children were waiting for a bus to take them to the Chabad-Lubavitch run
Gan Rashi elementary school.
community is anxious and on edge,” reported Rabbi Haim Hilel Matusof of Jeunesse
Lubavitch-Beth Habad Toulouse, a Chabad Jewish center in the city. “That school
is on a little street in a calm area. There’s no sign, and it’s a very secure
place. He had to know it was a Jewish school.”
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boy, whose Hebrew name is Aharon ben Leah, was injured in the attack. Matusof
urged people around the world to pray for his recovery.
“Schools are of
course closed for the rest of the day,” said the rabbi, adding that
psychologists and counselors were already helping students and their families
deal with the crisis. “People will be in synagogue tonight, seeking to make
sense of this horrific tragedy.”
A friend of
Sandler’s, who identified himself to reporters as Baruch, said that he spoke to
the man just before the shooting.
“I saw him,
greeted him, and left toward the school. Seconds later, I heard shots. I didn’t
turn around, and started running toward the synagogue that is about 10 to 15
meters from the entrance gate,” he detailed. “Everyone started shouting … and
fled. At some point the shooter entered the school and began firing inside. We
hid under the synagogue in a shed, until the police came and escorted us out.”
outside the school could only be described as chaotic, with groups of parents
and children huddled together, some in shock, others wailing. Older boys still
wore their prayer boxes known as tefillin, carrying their hastily bunched
prayer shawls through the streets.
President Nicolas Sarkozy and his opponents in this year’s elections
effectively cancelled campaigning, and Sarkozy ordered more security at Jewish
schools throughout the nation. He visited Toulouse with Jewish community
officials later Monday.
The Ozar Hatorah high school serves as a central point for Toulouse's 25,000-strong Jewish community. (Photo: Eric Cabanis/AFP)
Calling the shooting
an attack on the entire community of France, Sarkozy told those gathered at a
hastily-called press conference at the school that investigators would bring
those responsible to justice.
“We will find
him,” he pledged.
CRIF, the umbrella Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, condemned the attack and expressed outrage at the targeting of children, Haaretz reported.
“We have no doubt that the attack was anti-Semitic. It is certain,” said Meir Habib, deputy chairman of CRIF. “Killing children from close range just because they are Jewish is an unimaginable horror. These are innocent children.”
The attack bore similarities to a March 10 assault on a
paratrooper in Toulouse, in which a gunman on a motorbike opened fire. Just
last week, a gunman on a motorbike killed two other paratroopers in Montauban,
about 30 miles away. Forensics experts said that the same weapon was likely
used in the previous attacks, the Associated Press reported, but witnesses spoke Monday of possibly two
weapons being used outside the Jewish school.
Israeli officials unanimously condemned the attack, expressing confidence that
French authorities would conduct a thorough investigation.
“Whether it was
a terror attack or a hate crime,” said Defense Minister Ehud Barak, “the loss
of life is unacceptable.”
Runyan contributed to this report.