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Jewish Journal

Motivated by Hate

Pittsburgh's Jewish community shaken by deadly shooting spree

by Peter Ephross

May 4, 2000 | 8:00 pm

Some Jewish facilities in Pittsburgh are under increased security following last week's shooting rampage that killed five minorities, including one Jewish woman.

Police are adding patrols and keeping marked police cars parked near some Pittsburgh Jewish institutions.

"We live in an era of random risk, and I'm watching Jewish institutions take increased precautions," said Brian Schreiber, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.

"But we don't want this to become Ft. Knox," said Schreiber, who added that he supports the security measures.

On Monday, police were patrolling the parking lot of Congregation Beth El of South Hills, which was one of two synagogues shot at during the rampage. Windows were boarded, and the anti-Semitic graffiti spray-painted there during the rampage was covered, according to a synagogue employee.

The tragedy is spurring calls for increased gun safety laws and passage of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which has been stalled in Congress.

President Clinton called for national legislation against hate crimes in an address Sunday at a fundraiser for the NAACP in Detroit.

The incident, Clinton said, shows that "there are still people in the country who are shot, who are abused, who are killed because of their race, their religion, just because they're gay."

He added, "It is simply not true that we do not need national legislation. We do. It is who we are. It is who we stand for."

Some congressional Republicans oppose the bill in part because they don't want to create special classes of victims.

The rampage was the second apparently racially motivated crime in the Pittsburgh area in the past two months.

In March, a black man allegedly killed three whites in the working-class suburb of Wilkinsburg.

"These incidents are becoming less shocking, and that's shocking in and of itself," said Schreiber.

Last Friday, Richard Scott Baumhammers, 34, allegedly began his spree by killing Anita Gordon, a Jewish woman who was one of his next-door neighbors and a family friend.

Gordon, a 63-year-old native of Pittsburgh who was the married mother of three daughters, held a bachelor's degree in interior design.

She was known for her work as a volunteer at Beth El and once designed the cover of the synagogue directory.

"Many members talked of her as if she were a second mother," said Beth El's rabbi, Neal Scheindlin.

A standing-room-only funeral for Gordon, who had known Baumhammers since he was a young boy, was held Monday.

The other four people killed last Friday were also minorities: an Indian man, Anil Thakur, was killed at a grocery; two Asian men, Thao Pham and Ji-Ye Sun, at a Chinese restaurant; and an African American man, Garry Lee, was shot and killed at a karate school.

Another Indian man shot in the rampage, Sandip Patel, remained in critical condition Sunday in a Pittsburgh hospital.

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