When a self-proclaimed white supremacist opened fire 20 years ago in the San Fernando Valley, he wounded five people at the North Valley Jewish Community Center before he drove to Chatsworth, where he shot and killed a mail carrier who he thought “looked Asian or Latino.”
The Aug. 10, 1999 attack critically wounded three children, a teenager and a grandmother at the Granada Hills jewish center.
Joseph Ileto, 39, was a Filipino American who was delivering mail in Chatsworth when he was killed.
On Saturday, two decades after the attack, survivors, community members and officials gathered at a Chatsworth U.S. Post Office to honor Ileto’s memory, and call for stricter gun control laws.
At the postal office, a bouquet of white flowers stood next to a bronze plaque carrying Ileto’s name. The plaque read the words, “He gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country. May he never be forgotten.”
As he stood in front of the plaque, Ileto’s brother remembered the victim as a kind, fun-loving person who loved helping people.
“It’s difficult to mark the twentieth anniversary,” the victim’s brother, Ismael Ileto said. “A lot of people mention how long ago it was, but at the same time, every time there’s a mass shooting, it takes us back to that day. And how often does that happen nowadays?”
The brother said the family was reminded of Ileto’s killing when news of the El Paso shooting broke.
“People were targeted because they looked Latino, and my brother was killed because he looked Latino,” Ismael Ileto said.
Among the speakers at the event was Donna Finkelstein, the mother of Mindy Finkelstein, a 16-year-old counselor who survived being shot at the Jewish center.
The mother said that after the shooting, she devoted her life to being an activist fighting against gun violence.
Though her daughter survived, she still has post-traumatic stress disorder, the mother said.
“No other parent should suffer to lose a child or have a child shot and wounded,” Finkelstein said. “…nationally, nothing has changed. Nothing. And It’s the guns, it’s not mental illness, it’s not video games. It’s guns.”
Congressman Brad Sherman, who led Saturday’s commemoration, said the country should have taken action after the 1999 attack.
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” Sherman told KTLA. “We did not learn the lessons of what happened here 20 years ago and we see white supremacist domestic terrorism, we see mass gun violence.”
The congressman called for federal laws requiring stronger background checks for gun purchases, saying that the gun used in the 1999 attack was not purchased in California, and that the shooter should have never been allowed to purchase a firearm.
“Things have gotten worse. First, as guns have proliferated, and as the psychology, the chat rooms and the culture of mass killings have proliferated, and then, over the past two years or so, the ideology of white supremacy has felt comfortable with our national leadership at the top,” Sherman said.
The gunman, Buford O. Furrow Jr., then 37, turned himself in to the FBI in Nevada two days after the shooting, saying he wanted the attack to send a message to the country.
Furrow told officials that he attacked the Jewish center because ”he was concerned about the decline of the white race and he wanted to send a message to America by killing Jews,” the New York Times reported at the time. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The shooting horrified L.A.’s Jewish community and sent shock waves rippling through the country.
“It shouldn’t matter what the color of our skin is, because what happened to us, what happened to them, is a strike against all of us,” Ileto’s sister-in-law, Deena Ileto, said at the commemoration.
Saturday’s event comes as the country was still reeling from two recent mass shooting that together, took the lives of 31 people.
On Wednesday, Ben Kadish, who was 5 when he was shot at the North Valley Jewish Community Center, marked 20 years since the shooting with a reunion with a nurse and paramedic who helped save his life when he was a kindergartner clinging to life.
“It’s hard to process that it keeps happening,” Kadish said at the reunion. “The level of hate and the level of just access to guns is abnormal for a country.”