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What most of America learned in horror on Sept. 11, Devorah Halberstam learned seven years earlier.

Terrorism can hit here at home.

And when it does, the pain -- and the outrage -- never fade.

Halberstam, who lost her 16-year-old son, Ari, in an act of terrorism on the Brooklyn Bridge on March 1, 1994, presented a message of grief, strength and resolve in a speech before a packed house of some 140 people in the Jewish Community Center in Amherst on Wednesday night.

"On 9/1 1, the rest of America woke up to what I already knew," said Halberstam, a slim, dark-haired woman in a black suit and shawl. "The enemy is right here."

Teenager Ari Halberstam was shot to death by a Lebanese terrorist while a passenger in a van full of 13 other Hasidic Jewish boys on the bridge in New York City. The attack occurred while they were returning from an early morning act of charity, in which the boys escorted a Jewish religious leader to the hospital for surgery.

The gunman chased the van over the Brooklyn Bridge while strafing it with bullets, killing Ari and wounding several others. The man, later identified as Rashid Baz, a 28-year-old Lebanese national, had 40 rounds of ammunition and weapons including a submachine gun and a "street sweeper" shotgun on his car.

But for seven years, Halberstam told the audience, the federal government and law enforcement agencies called the incident a case of "road rage."

Finally, after intense lobbying and countless hours spent in courtrooms, Halberstam achieved a victory when the government reclassified her son's death as an act of terrorism -- an act believed to be in retaliation for violent events in the Middle East that had occurred shortly before the attack on the van.

"It was just like a scene of suicide bombing in Israel," Halberstam said.

Audience members included many students and teenagers, who spoke enthusiastically about Halberstam's story.

"I really liked it. I thought it was very inspiring," said Emma Sade-Milberg, 17, a student at Williamsville North High School.

Since the day of her son's death, Halberstam has lobbied for changes in state and federal laws pertaining to gun sales and shipments. New York's "Ari's Law," which prohibits interstate gun trafficking, is named in honor of her son. "I think of Ari as everyone's child," Halberstam said, "and I think of everyone's children as my own."


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