Richard Macales was working in his office in the UCLA Extension Building when his mother called on Tuesday morning.
Had he heard a radio report about a shooting at the "West Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills," she asked.
Macales hadn't, but he was puzzled, knowing that the West Valley JCC was not in Granada Hills, but in West Hills.
Two minutes later, his mother called again with a correction. The shooting had been at the North Valley JCC, where Richard and Beverly Macales' 3-year-old son, David, was attending nursery school.
Macales frantically phoned his wife at their home in Granada Hills but couldn't find her. To make matters worse, he didn't have a car, as he came to work in a van pool.
Toni Lawrence, Macales' boss at the Extension public information office, immediately offered to drive him to the scene. Going north on the 405 "felt like the second-longest drive of my life," said Macales. The first was 10 years ago, when his first child unexpectedly died of natural causes.
As more news of the shooting came over the car radio, Macales, a bearded, yarmulke-wearing Orthodox Jew, recited Tehillim, the Psalms of David, frequently offered in time of danger.
Macales and his boss finally reached the JCC, but had to park several blocks away because police had set up barricades all along the perimeter.
As he tried to get closer, Macales was approached by a woman who introduced herself as Soshea Leibler, a producer with the national CBS-TV "This Morning" show.
Leibler, an observant Jew herself, had spotted Macales' yarmulke and deduced, rightly, that he was the father of one of the JCC kids. Leibler started working her way through the police lines, until she was stopped at the final cordon. She asked the officer where she could find David Macales, and he shrugged and pointed to a blond, blue-eyed boy with a yarmulke.
It was David, who somehow had managed to strike out on his own and was sitting quietly on a curb.
The boy cried, "Abba," and hugged his father, but otherwise seemed quiet and composed. Recalling the moment, Macales said, "By saying the Psalms of King David, I was able to find my own little King David."
Then, father and son were surrounded by television cameras and crews, including two from Israel.
But Macales' anxiety wasn't over. His other son, 2-year-old Aaron, had also started to attend the JCC nursery school, three times a week, and Macales wasn't sure whether his wife had sent Aaron that day.
He finally tracked down Beverly at his mother's house. She had been shopping for a birthday present for her niece and had been blissfully unaware of the crisis. She reassured her husband that Aaron was with her.
Beverly Macales agreed that David had apparently survived the ordeal well. "He just told me, 'Eema, I heard a loud pop, then the teacher told us to hold hands, and we ran outside.'"
When The Jewish Journal first called the Macales home Tuesday evening, the father was davening, as is his nightly custom, at Young Israel of Northridge.
When he returned home, the 42-year-old Macales said: "I don't believe that this is a hate crime committed by anyone in this neighborhood. I have lived here my entire life, always wearing a yarmulke, and I have not once heard a taunt or an anti-Semitic remark."
'He Was One Door Away'
By Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer
Oren Zigler, 5, saw smoke coming from the classroom next door. That's when his counselors at the North Valley Jewish Community Center sneaked the children out of the classroom and into a nearby church. They calmed Oren and his friends with milk and cookies.
Meanwhile, Oren's father, Ami, a native Israeli, was frantic. He was at work when he got an 11 a.m. phone call about the shooting. As he raced toward the school, his car phone rang incessantly: Relatives in Israel had already seen early television reports. Among the broadcast images was Oren, wearing a bright red shirt and shorts, being led to safety. "They called me even from Israel to say, We saw your son. He's safe."
Arriving at the scene, Ami waited with other anxious parents for two hours, everyone desperate for news. "You really didn't know if it was OK," he said.
On Wednesday morning, Ami woke up to find his son's picture on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. "At night, I couldn't sleep. Today, it started hitting me more than it did yesterday. I thought that I'm safe here, but it's the same like what's going on in Israel. I can't believe it. He was one door away."
Ami didn't send his son to school on Wednesday, though he said the boy is not traumatized. Despite his fears, Ami said he believes the shooting was "an isolated incident," and he will send Oren back to the center in the fall.
For now, though, he plans to take him to Israel for an extended vacation, "to clear his mind" of the violence that struck home.
'We Need to Keep Our Guard Up'
By Wendy Madnick, Valley Editor
Robert Goldberg was about to head out the door to his job at Four Eyes in Tarzana when his wife called him; he ran out to his car and took the fastest route he could, listening to the radio and trying not to panic as he thought about his daughter, Jessica. He arrived in time to hear police announce that the parents of all the children with injuries had already been notified and were being taken to area hospitals.
Goldberg said the experience was "very frightening."
"My first reaction [after the announcement] was relief, but then I started thinking, my God, my child is safe, but there are five people with gunshots in them," he said.
Goldberg said Jessica, 9, had been attending programs through the North Valley JCC for almost a year. Before that, she was at the Valley Cities JCC. His wife, Susan, said she had never heard of any threats against the North Valley center.
"It's a shame. This has been like a home to her," said Susan. "But if this is religiously motivated, I'm not going to keep her here. I'm the daughter of survivors, and we cannot afford to forget we need to keep our guard up."