Chaos erupted at the University of Florida on Monday evening, when a vigil for the victims of the latest terrorist attacks in Israel turned into a dangerous stampede. More than 30 students were injured during the event, which was organized by the Chabad Jewish Student Center and Hillel.
The evening started off as a peaceful gathering, with a large crowd of students, faculty, and community members coming together to mourn the lives lost in the recent attacks in Israel. However, things quickly took a frightening turn when a “misunderstanding” caused widespread panic and chaos.
Video footage captured the moment when a rabbi was leading a prayer, and someone in the crowd suddenly screamed. This caused a ripple effect, as people started to run away in fear. According to Chanie Goldman, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Student Center, it was a real stampede, and “people came to the event on edge to begin with because there is a fear for going to any Jewish event that something could happen.”
More than 30 individuals were treated at a local hospital for injuries sustained during the stampede. Some had concussions, while others suffered from broken bones. The situation was made even more terrifying by the fact that many students believed they had heard gunshots, and feared that there was an active shooter on campus.
Police later confirmed that the panic was caused by a “misunderstanding.” It is believed that someone fainted during the event, and others panicked, thinking there was a medical emergency. At the same time, another person reportedly dropped a bag or other items, which created a loud noise that some mistook for gunshots.
Chief Linda Stump-Kurnick said in a statement, “We have no reason to believe that there was malicious intent behind this incident. It was an accident that was misinterpreted by the crowd that led to panic.”
The University of Florida and its Jewish community leaders have expressed their regret over the incident, and have vowed to support those who were injured. In a joint statement, Rabbis Goldman and Jonah said, “While we do not definitively know the cause, we feel certain that this was rooted in misunderstanding.”
University President Ben Sasse also spoke out about the incident, saying, “Tonight’s vigil was an opportunity for our community to condemn Hamas’ terrorism and stand by our Jewish Gators. I’m grateful for each and every Gator who came to show their support.”
The university is now working to reschedule the vigil, in order to give students and community members the chance to come together and mourn in a safer environment. The campus has one of the largest Jewish student populations, with approximately 9,000 students between undergraduate and graduate programs.
Despite the chaos and fear that the incident caused, it also highlighted the strong sense of unity and support within the university’s Jewish community. The rabbis noted, “Our institutions exist to support Jewish students. We remain united in our commitment to this sacred work.”