Three times since the year started, the phone has rung at the Roth Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando and the voice on the other end allegedly threatened the operator at the JCC with “bloodshed” and explosive devices on campus.
Each time, an off-duty Maitland patrol officer hired to monitor the JCC was notified, and the campus was evacuated and searched extensively by bomb dogs. The process, Lt. Louis Grindle of the Maitland Police Department said, takes hours.
“It disrupts all of the JCC’s business … and it taxes our (police department) resources altogether as well,” Grindle said.
The searches on Jan. 4, 9 and 18 all came up empty. Nothing suspicious was found.
“As far as we know, everything appeared to be a hoax,” he said.
The Maitland JCC campus, which is home to a preschool and the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center, is one of dozens of Jewish Community Centers nationwide plagued with bomb threats this month. On Jan. 18 the JCC Association of North America reported that 27 JCCs in 17 states received threats. That was after 16 centers in nine states received similar threats the week before on Jan. 9. Two Central Florida centers, the Maitland location as well as the Center for Jewish Life on Sand Lake Boulevard, were also hit with threats on Jan. 4.
That’s three threats in three weeks, Grindle said, compared to the one bomb scare reported at the Maitland JCC in all of 2016, which was reported last January.
Grindle said a nationwide investigation with help of the FBI is ongoing into who is responsible for the threats. He said it appears the person – or group of people – behind the threatening phone calls used an automated system to either place the calls or change their voice during the calls. The person, or persons, behind the calls, Grindle said, could face charges of making false threats as well as charges of hate crimes, as the threats seem to be religiously motivated.
David Posner, director of strategic performance at JCC Association of North America, who helps to advise local JCCs on security policies and practices, issued a statement following the Jan. 18 threats reflecting on how JCCs across the country have responded to the increase in threats, and the motivation behind them.
“While we’re extremely proud of our JCCs for professionally handling yet another threatening situation, we are concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats,” Posner said in the statement.
“While the bombs in question are hoaxes, the calls are not. We know that law enforcement at both the local and national level are continuing to investigate the ongoing situation. We are relieved that no one has been harmed and that JCCs continue to operate in a way that puts the safety of their staff, visitors, and premises first.”