Survivors' Stories

Jewish Community Center Victims Recover

Just seven weeks ago, Los Angeles paramedics Todd Carb and Paul Medina found pandemonium after reports of gunshots at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, at a summer camp for preschoolers.

Police identified the gunman as 37-year-old Buford Furrow, a white supremacist armed with a 9-millimeter semiautomatic and a hatred for Jews. In less than a minute, he opened fire on five children and then proceeded to kill a postal worker.

48 Hours Correspondent Susan Spencer takes the first television look inside the community center since the shooting took place.

Paramedics Carb and Medina arrived at the community center just 90 seconds after receiving the emergency call.

"The first thing I noticed was an incredible number of shell casings," Carb remembers. "I haven't seen that number of shell casings since I'd been to a shooting range."

"[It was] a normal day, a quiet normal day with campers coming and going," says 68-year-old receptionist Isabelle Shalometh, who was at the front desk.

Check out the Web site for the Eldridge Street Synagogue, where Dan Rather opened and closed the Sept. 30 48 Hours program.
"[A stranger walked in] and I didnÂ't say a word. And I happened to look down, and the next thing I knew I heard the shooting and that's when I ducked and crawled to the back office to the other secretary," she says.

Shalometh was hit. "I didn't feel it until I saw the blood coming from my arm and I felt it in my back," she says.

The gunman fired 75 to 80 bullets in matter of seconds.

Sixteen-year-old counselor Mindy Finkelstein was shot twice as she came down the hall. "It hurt a lot. I remember it going through me," she says.

"I knew what had happened and I knew I couldn't be there just for myself. I had to help the kids," Finkelstein says.

The child with her, 6-year-old James Zidell, was hit in the foot. And scores of kids were in the classroom just a few feet from where the gunman was firing.

"She runs into this room and says, 'Get out, get out,'" center director Jeff Rouss explains. "The children run; the counselors run; the counselors are holding the children's hands."

"Mindy's trying to help. She gets through the door; she goes another 10 feet and then she collapses from loss of blood. It really was a case of our children saving our children," he says.

When receptionist Isabelle Shalometh was shot, she thought first about the cener's children.
Shalometh crawled to the door of another classroom, but she refused to go inside. "I didnÂ't want the kids to see the blood on my arm,Â…to scare them," she says.

"So I asked the teacher to please step out. I just said to her, 'Get the kids on the ground. I've been shot and don't ask any questions,'" Shalometh recalls.

Six-year-old Joshua Stepakoff was injured in the pelvis and leg. In the same hall, 5-year-old Benjamin Kadish was shot in the abdomen and leg.

"I walked down the hall and I saw a little boy crumpled on the floor," says Carb. "I thought he was mortally wounded when I saw him."

While Carb worked on Benjamin inside, paramedic Medina treated the two women outside.

"Isabelle really impressed me tremendously with her calm," Medina recalls. "She was not worried about herself at all. She was worried about the kids."

Loren and Alan Stepakoff were just arriving at the center as their son, Joshua, was airlifted to a nearby hospital.

"I ran up to a crowd of parents, and I heard them calling my son's name," Loren Stepakoff says.

"So I just went forward to the paramedic," she says. "He just grabbed me by shoulders and kept saying to me, 'He's OK; he's OK; he's all right.'"

James Zidell's parents, Gary and Francine, will never forget the horror of that day.

"The terror I went through, rushing over to the hospital, wondering how bad he was hurt and not knowing. It was scary," says Gary Zidell.

"It's sort of a wakeup call that there are still Nazis and white supremacists out there," he says.

The physical wounds are healing. Joshua and James are new best friends. But JoshuaÂ's parents say he still at times seems emotionally fragile, a sharp contrast to the calm, talkative boy Medina remembers before his airlift to safety.

"It was amazing. The more I think about it, the more amazed I get - how together that kid was," says Medina.

The most difficult part, say the families, will be explaining to their children the motive behind this horrific crime, that they were singled out because they are Jewish.

Both the center and the families are rebuilding, focusing on hope rather than hate.

Paramedic Paul Medina and his partner were the first emergency personnel on the scene.
"That day was very fast moving, very confusing, very erratic," Medina remembers. "From the noise of helicopters, to the police officers running with their guns," e says. "The scene was not secure at that point, but the decision was made to come in and treat the patients."

For Medina, the scene at the Jewish community center was all the more frightening since the alleged gunman was still on the loose.

As it turned out, police say, Furrow had fled the area, leaving his van behind. In his van, police found a large amount of ammunition, explosive devices and survival equipment.

Staying one step ahead of Los Angeles SWAT teams, Furrow eluded police by taking an $800 cab ride to Las Vegas.

But when Furrow saw his picture on TV, he turned himself in to the FBI the next morning and reportedly confessed.

Police say Furrow has a history of severe psychiatric problems, but as a member of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, he was clearly motivated by hate.

But for families of the victims, the question remains: How could anyone hate enough to harm their children?

"In some ways I blame the ability for people like him to get weapons that can do this kind of thing," says Alan Stepakoff. "That there are hate groups out there that are able to use the Constitution to protect themselves at my cost, to take away my rights and my childrenÂ's rights."

Furrow, now in an Los Angeles county jail, could face the death penalty for the murder of postal worker Joseph Iletto. That trial starts next month. Then he faces a second trial for the attack at the community center.

And as the families continue to strive for the normal life they once had, theyÂ've found perhaps an unexpected source of healing.

"There are more good people out there than bad," says Gary Zidell. "YouÂ'd be amazed at all the things sent to our house from all over the countryÂ….And the kids see there are so many people out there that cared."