September 8, 2009
JCC families question gunman’s “remorse”
A declaration by convicted murderer Buford Furrow, Jr., expressing his remorse and renouncing his racist beliefs, has been met with skepticism and indignation by the families victimized by his rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center 10 years ago, and the killing of a Filipino-American letter carrier.
Furrow burst into the JCC in Granada Hills on Aug. 10, 1999, spraying bullets and wounding three children, a 16-year old camp counselor and an adult staff member.
When arrested, Furrow told investigators that he had targeted the JCC as “a wakeup call to America to kill Jews” and that he had fatally shot mailman Joseph Ileto because he was a non-white federal employee.
In a letter from prison earlier this month to Kevin Modesti, a Los Angeles Daily News reporter, Furrow wrote, “I feel deep remorse for my crime. About 5 years ago, I threw away my racist books, literature, etc. and took up a new leaf. I now publicly renounce all bias toward anyone based on race, creed, color, sexual orientation, etc. and am a much happier person. I feel a life based on hate is no life at all.
“Those people I hurt and the man I killed that day in 1999 will probably never forgive me, but I am truely (sic) sorry and deeply regret the pain I caused… I can’t change the past, but I can damn sure change the future, and my future will never include Neo-Nazi activity again. That is all I can do.”
David Finkelstein, whose then 16-year old daughter Mindy was shot twice, told The Journal that he was appalled that Furrow’s apology was spread across the front page of the Daily News and picked up by wire services and other media.
“I mean this was a man who shot people,” Finkelstein said. “Why is it news what he says 10 years later? Why give him a stage?”
Nancy Parris Moskowitz, when then served as president of the North Valley center, was immediately notified of the shooting by her stepson Adam, a camp counselor, and arrived on the scene minutes later.
“I’m somewhat ambivalent about that person – I don’t want to even use his name – but I think the new publicity gives him a credence he doesn’t deserve,” she told The Journal.
“Even if he is truly remorseful, it doesn’t change anything. It’s between him and his God. I don’t want to hear anything from him or about him.”
Other families of JCC victims said they did not wish to comment or reopen old wounds, but Alan Stepakoff, whose then six-year old son Josh was shot in the left thigh and lower back, told the Daily News he wanted to make three points.
“One is, this doesn’t change what he did. The second point is we are glad he has renounced his hateful beliefs. The third point is I’m not fully convinced of his sincerity,”
Ismael Ileto, brother of the slain letter carrier, summed up his feelings by saying, “You can’t do something and then write a remorseful letter and now everything is ok.”
Furrow pleaded guilty to charges of murder and other crimes and in 2001 was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
He wrote from his cell in the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. after authorities had turned down reporter Modesti’s request for an interview.