Today, 1,300 mourners gathered at Temple B’nai Torah for the funeral of Pam Waechter. She was the lone person killed in the shooting spree at the Jewish Federation here in Seattle. Here is how she was eulogized:
Pam Waechter acknowledged the possibility of dying for her adopted faith well before she was shot to death Friday as she worked to further the local Jewish community.
When she traveled to Israel, the fundraiser for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle left notes to her daughter and son in the event that she did not return alive.
“You have to ask yourself: If Pam could have known, because of all the things she did and was, that she’d be taken violently and tragically … would she have continued to do and to be the kind of person and the kind of Jew she was?” Rabbi James Mirel of Temple B’nai Torah asked during her funeral Monday.
“She would not have changed one thing about the way she lived her life… ,” he said. “Pam lived the way she died — without regrets and without hesitation.”
The Seattle Times also notes this important act of conciliation in its coverage:
One letter sent to Waechter’s family was from the family of 30-year-old Naveed Afzal Haq, facing aggravated-murder and attempted-murder charges in the shooting attack at the Jewish Federation. His family expressed condolences to the Waechter family and the federation.
A memorial fund is being established by the Jewish Federation to support the victims and their families. I will post a link as soon as I have one.
The Seattle PI reveals today that Naveed Haq, the shooter, is a more complicated individual than previously thought. While news reports have quoted him as saying to Federation staff that he was a Muslim angry at Israel, he actually had been quite estranged from his religion because he felt it disrespected women. In fact, he’d been baptized as a Christian:
Haq, 30, told a ministry leader that he saw too much anger in Islam and wanted to find a new beginning in Christianity. He converted to Christianity, but, as with many other endeavors in his life, drifted away from the faith.
Acquaintances said he never seemed to be the fanatic religious extremist he played out on Friday. Instead some think his anger was really the result of problems in his personal and professional life.
“Naveed had the profile of the guy who just couldn’t get things together,” said Erik Neilsen, a Richland resident who let Haq live with him for three months in 2004. Neilsen said he thinks several problems compounded for Haq, and he just exploded.
“I wish I could have done something about it. I look back in retrospect and say ‘Is there anything I could have done?’ ”
Last winter, Haq began attending a weekly men’s group meeting at the home of a men’s ministry leader with the Word of Faith Center, a non-denominational, evangelical church in Kennewick.
The group’s leader, Albert Montelongo, said Haq started studying the Bible. In December, he was baptized by Montelongo. The ceremony brought tears to Haq’s eyes, Montelongo said.
He said Haq appeared to accept his new faith, though he knew that he would be offending his own family and its deeply rooted culture. His father, Mian Haq, was among the founders of the Islamic Center of the Tri-Cities in Richland, a place of worship for about 300 Muslims.
Montelongo said Haq seemed passionate and often boasted about his education. But he seemed depressed by the tension that had grown between him and his family. And Montelongo said Haq talked about suffering from bipolar disorder, but that he seemed to improve in how he coped with anger.
A few months after he was baptized, Haq stopped attending the men’s group meetings. Montelongo last heard from Haq in a message that said he was going to Seattle to find a job. He said he tried to call Haq several times but never reached him.
If it hadn’t ended so horribly, one could almost see in Haq’s spiritual quest a yearning for release from the torment of his mental illness. While one must acknowledge this as a hate crime, far more significant to me is his mental illness as a motivating factor. This was a man who could just as easily have taken his anger out of the telemarketing company boss who fired him. While I hope for justice, I also hope the prosecution will not pursue this case in the same way it might pursue a more straightforward hate crime case. This is a man who also deserves the mercy of the court for his torment. For example, I think pursuing the death penalty in this case would be unwarranted given his mental history. I’m no prosecutor–this is just the opinion of someone who understands a thing or two about mental afflictions.
The PI story also confirms Haq’s anti-Semitic beliefs:
A neighbor of Haq’s parents told the Tri-City Herald that Haq expressed anger at Jews, having convinced himself that the Jewish community controls the nation’s media and economic system. The neighbor, Caleb Hales, also said Haq expressed an interest in the Mormon faith.
Haq’s crimes will be prosecuted by the State of Washington though the federal government could pursue its own charges based on federal hate crimes legislation:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Lang said Monday federal prosecutors have not ruled out federal charges, as they monitor the state’s investigation and wait for the FBI to complete a probe of its own.
Lang and Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Miyake, who handles civil-rights and hate-crime prosecutions for the office, said proving a hate crime under federal law might be more difficult than it would seem, regardless of Haq’s reported statements.
“Hate by itself is not enough,” Miyake said. “It’s sort of hate-‘plus.’ ”
The “plus,” Miyake explained, requires the government to prove that more than race, religious preference or national origin was a factor in the crime. “You also have to be able to show that the individual was interfering with a federally protected right,” such as voting, using interstate commerce or attempting to use a public facility.
That’s because the law harkens to the civil-rights struggle of the early 1960s, when blacks were assaulted for attempting to eat at segregated lunch counters or to register to vote.
Still, there may be a section of the statute under which Haq could be prosecuted in federal court, Miyake and Lang said. For example, one of the federally protected rights cited by the law is “applying for or enjoying employment.”
“The mere fact that they were in the act of working may be enough,” Lang said.
It seems almost self-evident to me that George Bush and Alberto Gonzales would like to add this case to the war on terror prosecution portfolio. But I hope they have better sense than that and decline the opportunity. This is a man who deserves prosecution, but not to be held out as a poster boy for Muslim terrorism.