Video footage, teamwork with police helped find man accused of firing at Jewish school in Memphis

1 August 2023

Information from video cameras, a close relationship with police and years of work to bolster safety measures kept a man with a gun out of a Jewish school and helped officers find him after he fired shots outside the building, a Jewish security organization said Tuesday.

A man tried to enter Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South in Memphis, Tennessee, on Monday afternoon but was denied entrance into the building, Memphis police said. The man, whose identity has not been released, fired several shots and then left in a maroon truck, Assistant Police Chief Don Crowe said.

No one at the school was injured. Classes were not in session and there were only limited staff and construction workers present, a security official said.

Officers found the vehicle shortly afterwards in a residential neighborhood located a short drive from the school. Officers then shot him after he exited the truck with a gun in hand, Crowe said. The suspect was taken to a hospital in critical condition.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the lead agency looking into the shooting, declined comment Tuesday when asked for an update on the investigation.

Monday’s shooting came just over four months after a shooter opened fire at a private Christian school in Nashville and killed six people, including three nine-year-old children. That tragedy has sparked closer scrutiny of Tennessee’s relaxed gun laws and renewed calls to strengthen security at both public and private schools across the state.

The Memphis shooting led Jewish groups to praise the teamwork shown by the school and police to neutralize the threat and capture the man accused of firing the shots.

Police commended the school’s safety procedures, but it was not immediately clear what exact security measures kept the man out. Jewish Community Partners said in a statement that a school employee quickly contacted police about the attempt to enter the school.

Laura Kepes Linder, the organization’s president and CEO, said work over the last decade to ensure the safety of Memphis’ Jewish community helped prevent a tragedy. She referenced security camera footage that helped law enforcement identify the individual with the gun.

Linder also said “our close relationship with MPD resulted in their quick response; our security director was at the school immediately to help manage the situation; and our school personnel were prepared.”

Secure Community Network, which bills itself as the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America, said officials were able to get clear video images of the man, track license plates to identify him, and produce additional information about him that was shared with authorities.

Teamwork between the school, community and law enforcement is emblematic of a national push for information sharing and security training, making the response to the threat “neither an accident nor luck,” said Michael Masters, the network’s national director and CEO.

Masters said the Memphis Jewish Federation and Secure Community Network have worked since 2018 to deploy a security program for synagogues, schools and a community center, led by a retired law enforcement official.

He said shootings in recent years at places where Jews gather, such as the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, increased awareness for stronger security.

“We’re simply not going to choose the time and place of the next incident,” Masters said. “What is in our control is our ability to prepare.”

Amanda Braswell, the network’s regional security advisor, said safety concerns prevented her from discussing details about the school’s security. But in general, methods such an an external gate with a key pad limiting access to school grounds, ballistic film on windows and glass doors, and entries that require a fob have been used around the country, she said.

In response to the Nashville shooting, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed a law in May designed to place more school resource officers in public and private schools, funnel additional money into school security upgrades and require every school to submit annual safety plans to the state.

Lawmakers are expected to be called back to Nashville this month to address possible changes to the state’s gun laws.

Braswell said she met in recent weeks with independent schools in Memphis to talk about how to improve security.

Good preparation allowed the school to avoid a situation where someone could have been injured there, Braswell said.

“It is so imperative that schools have an ongoing relationship with their local law enforcement before something happens,” she said. “You can’t do this the day-of … we worked as a whole unit yesterday, together.”

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