The Tucson Jewish Community Center was on lockdown for about 90 minutes Monday evening after a caller claimed there were explosives set to go off in the parking lot.
The call was part of the latest wave of bomb threats targeting JCCs and other Jewish institutions across the country in the past six weeks.
The Tucson Police Department bomb squad, working with the local FBI, swept the area and gave the all-clear at about 7:15 p.m. Monday, after which the center reopened.
“At 5:30 we received a bomb threat phone call and we immediately went into the procedures that we have trained our staff on,” Todd Rockoff, Tucson J president and CEO, told the AJP Tuesday. “We moved people into where we shelter in place, and TPD responded quickly, as did the local FBI.”
About 200 people, including many children, were inside the J when the lockdown went into effect.
Rockoff said he “could not be more proud” of the J’s staff, who reacted “with leadership and a calm air about them.” Local law enforcement “did a really terrific job of communicating with us,” in turn allowing the J “to communicate with our members regularly, while we were all here together.”
“As strange as it may sound, there was a feeling of community” while everyone was sheltered together, Rockoff said.
Six other JCCs in Western states and the San Francisco office of the Anti-Defamation League were evacuated Monday after bomb threats that brought the day’s total to 29.
The Secure Community Network, the security arm of the national Jewish community, reported JCC evacuations in Scottsdale; Orange County, Palo Alto, San Diego and Long Beach in California; and Mercer Island in suburban Seattle, Wash.
Earlier evacuations in the day were reported in North Carolina, Michigan, Rhode Island, Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Alabama, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. They included 13 JCCs and eight schools.
The JCC Association of North America urged federal officials to identify and capture the perpetrator or perpetrators of the hoaxes.
“Anti-Semitism of this nature should not and must not be allowed to endure in our communities,” David Posner, the director of strategic performance at the JCCA, said in a statement. “The Justice Department, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the White House, alongside Congress and local officials, must speak out – and speak out forcefully – against this scourge of anti-Semitism impacting communities across the country. Actions speak louder than words.”
In Tucson, many turned to social media for information on the situation at the J. Christina Pugh, a staff member at the J, posted on Facebook Monday night, several hours after the incident, that she was “feeling proud.”
“I am more confident and feel more safe at my JCC … because I know our safety procedures were on point and our staff was confident and brave and strong through it all. Our members as well put on a strong face even though I’m sure they were freaked out but came together as a community and a true family!”
Pugh concluded “These ‘terrorists’ who are intentionally trying to bring fear across the country in all different Jewish organizations did the complete opposite at our JCC tonight!”