JERUSALEM – A gunman entered a community center for gay teenagers in Tel Aviv late Saturday and sprayed the room with automatic-rifle fire, killing three people and wounding at least 10 others in what activists called Israel’s deadliest crime against homosexuals.
Police set up roadblocks in central Tel Aviv and launched a citywide search for the assailant, described by some witnesses as masked, dressed in black and apparently acting alone. Police said they were uncertain of his motive.
The crime shook the freewheeling coastal city’s reputation as a relatively tolerant place for gay people. It occurred about 11 p.m. during a weekly support-group session for gay teenagers in the basement center.
“Someone walked in and began firing left and right,” Tel Aviv Police Chief Shahar Ayalon said in a televised report from the scene. “The shooter escaped and we are making every effort to find him.”
The wounded, screaming for help, struggled or were carried up a staircase to the street.
“We saw a woman running toward us covered in blood,” Adi Shimoni, a patron at a cafe across the street, told Israel’s Channel 10 television. “We saw the gunman flee. He was wearing what looked like a ski mask.”
Shimoni said he rushed into the center to help and saw “many wounded and a lot of blood.”
One of the dead was identified as a 24-year-old male counselor and another as a 17-year-old girl. The other person killed was not identified. Police said most of the wounded were teenagers. One was listed in critical condition.
Ayalon said there had been no prior threat against the center or its patron, the Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Association. He stopped short of calling the shooting an attack on the gay community, but said “All avenues of investigation are open.”
Gay activists said they had no doubt their community was the target. The center is located in a residential building and not prominently marked.
“To get here, you have to know where you’re going,” Eyal Amit, a member of the association, told Ynet online news site.
“This was not some random shooting.”