A student at Denver’s Yeshiva Toras Chaim was killed late Tuesday night, Aug. 17, in what appears to have been a drive-by shooting, apparently part of a crime spree across a wide expanse of Denver in which at least one other victim was shot and one vehicle carjacked.
The victim was identified early Wednesday as Shmuel Silverberg, 18, a native of the Cleveland area and a first-year post-high school student at Yeshiva Toras Chaim whose family resides in Lakewood, NJ. His parents, Dena and Mordechai Silverberg, are formerly of University Heights, Cleveland and now live in Lakewood.
While details of the incident remained sketchy as of press time this week, it appears that Silverberg was shot around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night very near the yeshiva, at or near Colfax Ave. and Stuart St. on Denver’s West Side, by assailants in a vehicle who immediately fled the scene.
According to one of the young man’s teachers at the yeshiva, several of his fellow students attempted to perform CPR on Silverberg before he was taken to a hospital where he died shortly afterward.
“At this point, we are in the early stages of the investigation,” Denver Police Dept. spokesman Jay Casillas told the Intermountain Jewish News on Wednesday.
“All we are able to say at this point is that the victim was shot. He was transported to the hospital where he was later pronounced deceased. No other injuries were reported. This incident is also connected to another series of crimes that occurred last night.”
Denver Police issued a Crime Stoppers alert shortly after the shootings, describing vehicles that may have been involved in the shootings, and asked for the public’s help in their investigation. Those with any information on the incident were urged to call 720-913-STOP.
As of Wednesday, the perpetrators remained at large and were to be considered armed and dangerous, the DPD said. On Thursday, DPD announced that four suspects were taken into custody, while one remained at large.
Local media reports painted a picture of violent mayhem on Tuesday night, beginning with an attempted car burglary on West Alameda early in the evening and moving on to a carjacking near Colfax and Grape St. in East Denver. There were apparently no injuries in that incident. Shortly after 11 p.m., a male pedestrian was robbed and shot by masked assailants near East Colfax and Lafayette St. That victim was hospitalized in critical but stable condition.
The shooting of Silverberg near the yeshiva was apparently the final incident in what police believe was a series of connected events. The department’s alert listed three vehicles — a maroon 2018 Honda CRV, a blue 2020 Toyota Camry and a black 1998 Toyota Rav 4 — which are believed to have been involved in the shootings.
Several leaders of the Denver Jewish community said this week that the shooting of Silverberg appears to have been random, not motivated by anti-Semitism.
That contention was bolstered on Wednesday afternoon by Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen during a press briefing on Twitter.
“It does not appear at this moment that this was a bias-motivated crime,” Pazen said, but added that the department is not ruling that possibility out and said that if the investigation does establish a bias or hate-crime motivation, appropriate charges would be filed.
The chief added that police patrols would be increased in the wake of the violence, ostensibly including the area around Yeshiva Toras Chaim.
DPD Major Crimes Division Commander Matt Clark outlined the chronology of the string of crimes on Tuesday night. Referring to Silverberg, Clark said the victim was walking outside the yeshiva when the shooting took place.
“We don’t know if there was any interaction between the attackers and the victim,” he said, noting that “multiple rounds” were fired in the incident.
Emotions were openly raw on Wednesday as rabbis and fellow students of Silverberg participated in a funeral service at 11:30 a.m. in the parking lot of Feldman’s Mortuary, live-streamed via Zoom.
Silverberg’s body was transported Wednesday to Lakewood, NJ, where a funeral service was scheduled to take place at midnight, with burial planned Thursday at Sons of Israel Cemetery in Lakewood.
In Denver, Yeshiva Toras Chaim’s Rabbi Aaron B. Kagan led the tearful opening prayer, followed by anguished, tearful comments from Rabbi Israel Kagen, dean, and other yeshiva teachers and administrators, including Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum, Rabbi Aharon Wasserman and Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky.
Rabbi Tzvi Steinberg of Congregation Zera Abraham also participated.
“Shmuely, Shmuely, where are you,” Rabbi Steinberg said through his sobs. “What are we going to do without Shmuely? We need you! You can’t go away!”
The rabbis’ faces and tears revealed the shock and grief that Silverberg’s death brought to the Yeshiva Toras Chaim community.
They spoke of the “tremendous void” that the young man’s murder has brought to the school, the “infectious smile” that he regularly displayed, his devotion to Torah study, his passionate prayer, his sterling character and the helping hand that he regularly extended to his fellow bochurs, or yeshiva students.
More than one rabbi noted that Silverberg’s love of Torah and Judaism in general set an example not only for his fellow students but faculty members as well.
“You came here,” one rabbi said, “to teach us to be better people.”
Rabbi Nussbaum emphasized how he was personally inspired by Silberberg.
On Wednesday afternoon, Yeshiva Toras Chaim said its faculty and students were “seeking solace and privacy at this time.”
“Our Yeshiva Toras Chaim community is grief-stricken at the killing of one of our students overnight. We are caring for our faculty, staff, students and their families in the face of this tragic and incomprehensible act of violence.
“We are grateful for the support we are receiving from our Denver community and from around the country, and for the work of local law enforcement authorities who have made this their top priority.”
Rabbi Jay Strear, president-CEO of JEWISHcolorado, added his prayers on behalf of the federation and broader Jewish community.
“Our prayers are with the family and community of a . . . yeshiva student who was shot and killed overnight in front of the Denver yeshiva at 1555 Stuart Street. Police report that the killing may have been part of a multi-jurisdictional crime spree.
“At this time, law enforcement authorities do not feel this homicide was an act targeted specifically at the Jewish community, However, all aspects of this string of crimes, including motive, remain under investigation. Suspects are still being sought by police.”
Strear said that JEWISHcolorado’s Regional Safety & Security Initiative partners “are diligently working with law enforcement to assist the community.”
Chris Leppek may be reached at [email protected].
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