Jewish day care centers in the Tampa Bay area tightened security Wednesday, concerned that more violence could follow this week's shootings near Los Angeles.
An off-duty sheriff's deputy was hired to guard a day care center on Bayshore Boulevard on Wednesday and will continue to do so for a while, said Howard Borer, executive director of the Tampa Jewish Community Center/Federation, which runs the center.
No children were absent, Borer said, but the shootings Tuesday that wounded five women and children near Los Angeles were a concern.
"It brings it a little close to home. It was a Jewish community center similar to ours, with a day care center," Borer said. "It's a sad commentary that in 1999 we still have people in our society who have chosen to hate a group because of religion."
The man thought to be the gunman, Buford O'Neal Furrow Jr., turned himself in to the FBI on Wednesday. He said the shootings were meant to be a "wake-up call to America to kill the Jews," officials said.
At Congregation B'Nai Israel in St. Petersburg, which has nearly 60 children in its year-round preschool, the staff reviewed its security policies but noticed no drop-off in attendance.
The staff of Clearwater's Golda Meir/Kent Jewish Center called the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to ask that patrols be stepped up in the neighborhood.
At Tampa's Congregation Schaarai Zedek, child-development center director Ian Bernstein said he is monitoring the entrance, which is locked, to screen visitors.
"It's a horrible situation that happened to those families and those children and the people who were hurt," Bernstein said. "We all have to work harder at raising good children and creating better influences out there."
The past three months have been full of violence against many groups, said Rabbi Lawrence Rivkin of Temple David in Tampa. Vandalism of synagogues in California and shootings in Illinois and Indiana that targeted racial minorities and Jews are examples of how society is changing, he said.
But Jews have no more reason to be afraid than any other group, Rivkin said.
"Everyone is afraid in our society. . . . We need to be concerned in general about violence in society and seek solutions."
Although the shootings in California have put people on edge, hate crimes won't discourage Jews or other groups from living their lives, Borer said.
"It will not stop people from being who they are. If they expect groups to shrink and disappear, they're wrong," Borer said.
_ Times staff writer Kelly Ryan contributed to this report.