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DA: Probe shows hate crime, arson pose no larger threat to Jewish community

DA: Probe shows hate crime, arson pose no larger threat to Jewish community

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LOCAL KIRKHAM temple beth zion 01

A view of the sanctuary at Temple Beth Zion on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News file photo)

Authorities say a monthslong campaign of harassment directed at an Amherst family doesn't pose a threat to the wider Jewish community.

An 18-year-old Amherst man is charged with a hate crime after, prosecutors say, he barraged a Jewish acquaintance with threatening phone calls and text messages.

Police also are looking into a fire set at the victim's home last month.

"The initial investigation into the arson reveals that there appears to be an anti-Semitic component to the crime," the Erie County District Attorney's Office said Tuesday morning. "However, the initial investigation also reveals that this appears to be an isolated incident directed at a specific member of the household."

News of the hate crime charge and the continuing investigation into a suspicious fire had raised concerns within the local Jewish community.

Recent months have seen several high-profile attacks on Jews in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year ordered state police to provide added security outside synagogues and other religious centers.

Dr. Bennett H. Myers, the father of the victim in the Amherst case, said he welcomes the district attorney's reassurances. His wife, Penny, is the cantor at the region's largest synagogue, Temple Beth Zion.

"We don't believe there's any threat to the temple related to this," Bennett Myers said.

Still, the Dec. 22 fire set at the Myers' West Amherst home was deeply troubling, he said.

The fire started around 5 a.m. in the first-floor dining room, near the front of the home. Bennett Myers said the family still is getting estimates but believes it caused about $20,000 damage.

No one was injured in the fire. The home is structurally sound but, he said, "I'm worried about the safety of my entire family."

Amherst police have been a constant presence outside the family's home, something the family appreciates, Myers said.

"They have been watching us very, very carefully and we are just so grateful for the attention ... for the protection they've given us here," he said.

Police Chief John Askey, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Assistant District Attorney Ryan Haggerty have regularly checked in on the family, Myers added.

The District Attorney's Office on Dec. 24 issued a statement announcing that Christian McCaffrey, 18, was charged with one count of aggravated harassment as a hate crime and that a "suspicious fire" remained under investigation.

Prosecutors that day said McCaffrey and the victim knew each other.

Bennett Myers would not discuss a possible motive for the harassment or the arson. He said he's deferring to prosecutors on that question.

With the DA's office describing the incident as isolated, prosecutors said, "At this time, we do not believe there to be a continuing threat to members of the Western New York Jewish community."

Bennett Myers said he looks forward to an arrest in the arson.

"There’s an awful lot of fear," he said. "You just never imagine – we always tell our kids Amherst is the safest town of its size in the country – you just never think something like that is going to happen to you."

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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