Congregation Beth Jacob sent this notification our by email:
Letter from Rabbi Feldman about today’s tragic incident
We are saddened by the tragic event that occurred involving an individual in our community, which took place physically in our shul building. By now you may already know that the young man, Yosef Pepper, loved and respected by his family and all who knew him, did not survive his suicide attempt. May he find eternal rest under the protection of a loving G-d.
Our most immediate concern is, of course, his loving family members—his parents, Jerry and Susan Pepper, who were important parts of our community before they moved to Baltimore several years ago, and his siblings. Our heart goes out to them in their time of intense sorrow. We have done our utmost to provide whatever support they need, starting with the funeral (details are not yet finalized) and beyond.
It is important to state that the DeKalb County police handled this situation with great wisdom, finesse, and unlimited patience, and they worked in close coordination with Rabbi Tendler and myself throughout the night. It is clear to me that their professionalism and experience in this area contributed to the possibility of a better resolution of this situation, but it was not to be.
In addition to the pain we feel for the young man and his family, we are led to focus as well on the vulnerability we have to mental anguish and turmoil. This tragedy raises important issues regarding mental health and highlights the importance of being sensitive to the mental well- being of others, especially at a time like this, when the Covid pandemic dramatically increases life’s difficulties for many people.
We will be addressing these issues in a special Zoom forum on Sunday night which will include professional guidance from a renowned expert in mental health (details will follow). These issues deserve sensitive attention and need to be brought to the fore.
We are about to celebrate Chanukah, known as a festival of lights. While we emphasize the light, it is a reality that light is only appreciated against the background of the darkness it illuminates. We do not ignore darkness, pain, or sadness, but at the same time we choose to emphasize our ability to celebrate the light of our faith in Hashem and the guidance of His Torah, where otherwise only darkness and hopelessness would exist.
Rabbi Ilan D. Feldman
5:01 p.m. Update
AJT correspondent has confirmed that the man in the synagogue has passed away. He was a local member of the Jewish community. Out of respect for the family, we are withholding additional details until further notice.
The AJT will continue to follow the story and update once it is appropriate.
3:01 p.m. Update
Shortly before 2 p.m. an emailed Security Update was sent to the members of Congregation Beth Jacob stating:
“A young man from our community was experiencing emotional crisis and entered Beth Jacob last night. Dekalb police and shul staff were on site since last night managing the situation, but unfortunately a short time ago, he attempted to take his life and was rushed to Grady hospital. We have yet to receive final confirmation from the police medical examiner. The shul campus is closed for the time being as part of standard police procedure.”
SWAT and DeKalb County Police had surrounded the Congregation Beth Jacob synagogue on LaVista Road. Atlanta Jewish Times reporter, Nathan Posner is on the scene. The man has been apprehended and was taken by ambulance. Officers describe the situation as a “distraught” man barricaded inside and refused to come out. Roads around the synagogue were blocked off. The unknown man is thought to have mental health concerns. The AJT is working to verify the identity and if the man was armed.
At 7:39 a.m., members of Congregation Beth Jacob synagogue received an email notification of a security alert in the building and that the morning minyan was cancelled and informed members that nobody was to enter the premises. Since, there has been additional communications stating that the synagogue will hold a briefing.
The nature of how the man was apprehended is still unknown, as well as if anyone was injured. The AJT is working on getting you more details and will update you LIVE at www.AtlantaJewishTimes.com. Check back soon.