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Victims of Jewish center shooting unite

August 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Survivors of the Granada Hills Jewish community center attack and the family of the letter carrier killed later that day assembled Monday on the 10th anniversary of the violence to discuss how their lives have changed in the past decade.Leaders with the Asian Pacific Legal Center in downtown Los Angeles say it was a sad, but inspiring day as they renewed their commitment to fighting hate based crimes on this somber anniversary.

Joseph Ileto, a Filipino-American postal worker, was the only fatality back on August 10, 1999. The 39-year-old was targeted and killed because of the color of his skin. He was shot to death by Buford O. Furrow Jr., who was a white supremacist. Furrow also opened fire on the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.

Wounded in the attack were 68-year-old receptionist Isabelle Shalometh, 16-year-old camp counselor Mindy Finkelstein, and day campers James Sidell, 6, Joshua Stepakoff, also 6, and 5-year-old Benjamin Kadish.

Both Finkelstein and Stepakoff were seated next to Ileto's family at the press conference. They talked about the impact the shooting has had on their lives and stressed that they did not want to be labeled as victims.

"I tried to go out rock-climbing the other day and there were three men with rifles just out in the open, so I turned around and didn't go. I cannot physically and emotionally be around stuff like that," said Finkelstein.

"I remember everything but getting hit. I remember when he came in and I remember when he left," said Stepakoff.

Joseph Ileto's mother talked about the day her son died.

"If only I knew my phone conversation was going to be the last one with Joseph, I would have not ended our conversation so briefly. I would of told him that I was so proud of him and that he meant so much to me," said Lilian Ileto. "I would of told him that I loved him. I miss him so much. I now only have my memories of my son. He will always be in my heart. I pray that we will make tomorrow a better and safer place for our children."

Death threats forced the family out of their home after the shooting.

Furrow went to Las Vegas where he confessed to the shootings. He is now serving life without parole in a federal prison.

Benjamin Kadish who was hospitalized for 44 days after the shooting says he still is haunted by the incident.

"Time does not heal the physical and emotional scars. I almost died," said Kadish.

Many of the victims are now vocal advocates for gun control.

"The fact that Buford had a criminal record, a mental history and was still able to buy guns is wrong," said Stepakoff.

"I recently quit my job in entertainment so I could focus on anti-violence organizations. I want to commit all of my time towards that now," said Finkelstein.

Members of the Anti-Defamation League were also present at the news conference standing in solidarity with the Ileto family.

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