SWFL synagogue security official says increased safety is necessary at places of worship

Reporter: Justin Kase Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News.

A vigilant friend likely stopped a mass shooting in Southwest Florida. A plot to shoot up a south Fort Myers synagogue was foiled because a suspect’s friend went to police. And a security official at another local synagogue said safety measures being implemented at places of worship nationwide have become necessity.

Lee County Sheriff’s Office says Alfredo Sanchez, 43, had a stockpile of weapons at his fingertips and several people could’ve died if he carried out a plan he shared with a friend.

Sanchez and his family had been regularly attending Chabad Lubavitch of Southwest Florida in south Fort Myers, which is where Sanchez is accused of speaking about targeting for a shooting.

Alfredo Sanchez. Photo via LCSO

Some of the synagogues and temples we spoke to have been stepping up their security prior to this incident.

One safety and security official at a nearby temple said it’s unfortunate places of worship need safety and security councils, but it’s necessary.

Berny Aronson is in charge of security at Temple Beth-El in south Fort Myers.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” Aronson said. “No matter where you go, people are on edge.”

Aronson was bothered after hearing a nearby synagogue was the target of a potential shooting.

“We try and leave it at the door when we come here for services on Friday night,” Aronson said. “It’s supposed to be joyful and uplifting.”

Aronson believes anti-Semitism is on the rise. That’s why his temple upped its security, not just cameras but spending what they can to make sure deputies are here to protect congregants.

“It’s a financial burden for the temple to be honest with you,” Aronson said. “We can’t do without it. Today, you can’t do without it.”

One of the most troubling parts of this story for Aronson is hearing the suspect, Sanchez, was a member of the synagogue he planned to attack for close to a year.

“He comes to the synagogue; he prays; he studies; he volunteers; he helps out,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Minkowicz of the Chabad in an interview with WINK News. “So, yes, absolutely, it was a surprise. We had no inkling of any of this stuff.”

Rich Kolko, WINK News’ Safety & Security Specialist, says this should serve as a reminder that all places of worship need to be prepared.

“A lot of the attacks that have happened at the religious sites, South Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, they were not in big cities. They’re small areas,” Kolko said. “So every religious facility is vulnerable and has to take the appropriate steps to protect themselves and their congregants.

Sanchez faces charges of possession of ammunition and firearms by a felon. Whether he will also face federal charges is something investigators are still looking at.

“It’s not a waste of money,” Aronson said. “It’s a deterrent. It’s something that we need.”

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