WHITEFISH BAY -- A former journalist has been arrested on accusations he made threats to at least eight Jewish institutions. Those threats turned out not to be credible but they still disrupted activities at the JCC and Hallel Academy. Jewish community leaders and members say this arrest helps calm their fears that something like this might happen again.
A mother of nine, Jaymie Stewart, feels a sense of relief walking to pick up her children from the Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay Friday afternoon, March 3rd.
"I just thank God. I thank God," said Stewart.
Federal authorities announced they arrested the suspect behind at least eight of the 122 recent bomb threats targeting Jewish centers and schools across the country.
"I'm grateful for the security measures and everyone working together," Stewart said.
Stewart was among the members evacuated from the JCC on February 20th. When the Whitefish Bay facility was placed on lockdown due to a bomb threat called in that morning, it was just three weeks after a bomb threat had been called into the JCC in late January. Stewart's children were at Hallel Academy at the time. They were bused to a safe location.
"I had tears in my eyes. But then I had to toughen up and tell myself no I'm not going to live in fear. We're going to get whoever is doing this," said Stewart.
Elana Kahn, with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation Jewish Community Relations Council, says it's too early to tell whether the suspect is responsible for the local threats. Still, she's encouraged by the progress.
"This is a real sign that they are on top of it," said Kahn.
While the investigation continues, Kahn hopes more families like Stewart's feel safe coming back.
"The call to action is to keep showing up. Not to allow one guy or a couple of guys to frighten us into isolating each other, isolating the Jewish community," said Kahn.
The following is a statement by Mark Shapiro, President and CEO of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay:
“We are pleased that law enforcement continues to make progress in its investigation of the non-credible threats that JCCs across the country have confronted. We are confident that our leaders, at all levels of government and community, will commit to ensuring that the JCC remains a safe and inclusive destination for everyone.
“We thank all those who say yes to the JCC, who keep our community safe, and who support the unique services we offer.”