The tight-knit 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.

“The whole 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.”


A 15-year-old 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.”

The scene 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.

French 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)
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.

In Jerusalem, 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.”

Tamar Runyan contributed to this report.