‘We are on heightened alert:’ Jewish synagogues in Utah evacuated for bomb threats during service
Oct 8, 2023, 11:39 AM | Updated: 10:19 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — A rabbi with Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami synagogue announced to the media that there was a bomb threat during service on Sunday morning. Soon after the announcement, multiple other organizations confirmed they had received the same threat.
“About halfway through our service, our staff received an email saying that there was a bomb in our building and that bombs had been placed in other Jewish centers around Utah and that it’d go off in a few hours and that we all deserved to die,” Rabbi Sam Spector said.
He immediately evacuated his congregation and called other Jewish organizations to alert them.
“It was I think certainly rattling and jarring for a lot of congregants, in particular for the parents who had to come pick up their children from the children’s service,” Spector said.
Salt Lake Police responded to the scene and secured the building, stating they didn’t find any explosives.
“We had police already on site,” Spector said. “They called for backup and did a sweep of the building and were able to clear it for us.”
Spector said the congregation has increased patrols during holidays and religious services.
“Unfortunately for us, we have regular security training because this is a part of being in a Jewish organization in America today,” he said.
Janice Ward, president of Congregation Brith Sholem in Ogden, confirmed they received the same anonymous email at 10:30 a.m. during a Sunday school service. Police were immediately called and evacuated the building. Ward said police checked for bombs, but nothing was found.
The FBI said a statement to KSL, “FBI Salt Lake City is aware of several bomb threats to synagogues in Utah. The FBI takes these threats very seriously. While we have no information to indicate a credible or specific threat, we are working with our local and state law enforcement partners as needed. We urge the public to remain vigilant, and report any and all suspicious activity and/or individuals to law enforcement immediately.”
Salt Lake Police Department issued a statement about the threats at 12:05 p.m. Sunday, saying they were aware of the threads and had an ongoing investigation. They stated that since Saturday morning, the Salt Lake City Police Department increased its patrol presence at the synagogues and Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City. It was announced Saturday that Israel was at war after a surprise attack by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Police later updated the public with another statement around 1:15 p.m.:
“As of 1 p.m. on Sunday Oct. 8, Salt Lake City police officers finished their searches of three local Jewish institutions within the city. Officers have not observed anything suspicious at any of the locations. Officers will continue to have increased patrols. The SLCPD will continue to work with other law enforcement agencies regarding the origin and credibility of the threats received. The SLCPD reminds people to report all threats or anything suspicious by calling 9-1-1.”
Spector said the threat came on one of the most joyful Jewish holidays.
“These are holidays where we finish, one, reading the torah and celebrate reading the torah, and then we go back and re-roll the torah and start all over again, but also with this holiday, this is when we start to pray for rain for the Jewish people and for the people of Israel,” he said.
Additional police cameras were placed outside the sanctuary.
“These are things that happen even when there isn’t stuff going on in Israel, but with that said, we are on heightened alert,” Spector said.