Bronstein said his heart “skipped a beat” because of how close the shooter had been to the educational facility he directs. He also thought it was likely that he had evidence that could help police.
Bronstein said he reviewed camera footage from the Chai Center and saw Nikolas Cruz. “You see him in our parking lot, casually walking by, looking over his shoulder.” and walking down the street into the fast-food restaurant after allegedly killing 17 people at the public high school.
Footage of Nikolas Cruz strolling outside Chabad of Coral Springs
“I recognized that this has a lot of value to the investigation for [law enforcement], and I knew that I had a moral responsibility to help,” said Bronstein, who has worked in the Jewish community in South Florida since 2005.
“They told me it could be an important part of the case,” Bronstein told VIN. “If he takes an insanity plea, the confident way he is walking could prove otherwise.”
The FBI and news organizations later stopped at the center and asked to see the footage. Cruz has since been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
The rabbi has been helping in other ways as well.
The Chai Center is only a mile away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Students who attended Hebrew school, or had their bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies at Chabad, typically also attended that high school, said Bronstein. For one of the students killed in the attack—14-year-old Alex Schachter—the rabbi has arranged a minyan for those sitting shiva.
The shooting has affected every family in the area, added the rabbi.
Helping Comfort Victims and Families
“It’s in the psyche of everyone,” he said. “We are a small community.”
After learning of the shooting, Bronstein walked to a nearby Marriott hotel, where students were being reunited with family members.
“I was just hugging everybody and meeting all of the students as they were bused in,” said the rabbi, who opened the Chai center in 2015.
Bronstein and other local Chabad rabbis launched a community-wide ceremony on Thursday night at a park amphitheater that drew more than 11,000 participants. Before taking the stage to offer words of comfort and recite prayers, Bronstein spoke with U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, who is Jewish, and asked him to wrap tefillin, a mitzvah that is a sign of connection to G‑d and protection from harm.
“I said Ted, ‘Let’s bring light into the world,’ and he was gracious enough to put on tefillin two minutes before he went on TV,” said Bronstein.
The rabbi has also talked with community members shaken by the shooting. He said he met with one Israeli mother who had moved her family to Florida because she wanted to get away from terrorist attacks in Israel. She had been attracted to that part of Florida because of its reputation as a safe place. Another student, who had a bat mitzvah with Chabad, had run from the school to the center because she knew her mother would soon pick up her younger brother from preschool there.
“She came to a safe haven, which is our Chabad House, which she is comfortable with because she knew her brother was here. But unbeknownst to her, the shooter was walking in the same direction,” said Bronstein.
In the wake of such “evil,” the rabbi stated, the Torah can serve as a guide.
“At times like this, there are really no words, and we don’t have the capacity to explain G‑d’s intentions or reasons,” he explained. “The only thing we can do is just be here for each other and hug each other and support each other, and just try to keep each other strong—to help each other overcome this tremendously dark time for our community.”
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