Marin pair voice concern about nephew shot at JCC

Cindy Ostroff of San Rafael got a message on her home answering machine Tuesday of last week: Her 6-year-old nephew had gotten hurt at day camp in the Los Angeles area, but he was OK.

That was all her sister-in-law had reported and Ostroff didn't give it too much thought — until later, when she caught the dramatic news of the North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting that same day.

"I heard the news with no names and no connections or anything and all of the sudden it was like a bolt of lightning," Ostroff said.

Her gut feeling was right. Ostroff's nephew was among the five people shot when a man opened fire in the lobby of the JCC in Granada Hills. Joshua Stepakoff, 6, had been hit in the leg and suffered a chipped bone in his shin. Suspect Buford O. Furrow Jr. faces state and federal murder and attempted murder charges in connection with the JCC incident and the fatal shooting of postal worker Joseph Ileto.

The young Stepakoff returned from the hospital last Friday to a wave of community and media attention. Now wearing a cast and using crutches, he is expected to recover fully.

"Physically, he'll be completely fine," his aunt reported. In the meantime, "I'm sending him a giant box of toys. He needs to be kept busy. It's hard for a 6-year-old boy not to be able to walk around."

On Monday, Joshua returned to day camp at the JCC. The facility's reopening drew the vast majority of children enrolled in JCC programs as well as staff.

Nonetheless, Ostroff and husband Raoul — members of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael — worry about the emotional implications the trauma will have on their nephew.

"I worry a lot," said Raoul Stepakoff, the older brother of Joshua's father, Alan. "The emotional scars could be far worse than the physical scars."

When he and Ostroff last talked to their family in the Los Angeles area, Joshua had not yet spoken about what happened. Raoul Stepakoff said the family will give the little boy all the support he needs. "I think they recognize the need to get counseling around this and make sure everybody's had the opportunity to talk about it," he said.

Stepakoff describes Joshua as a quiet, sweet child. "He's an extremely well-behaved child, very nice. There's no maliciousness in this kid at all. He's a kid with a good soul."

Like Ostroff, Stepakoff heard the news of the shooting Tuesday and worried that Joshua could have been involved. But that was not confirmed until he returned home later that evening.

When his wife told him the bad news, "I was just kind of shaking. It was a stun, almost a feeling of keeling over from the shock of it."

Then, on the 10 o'clock news, he watched his nephew being wheeled out of the JCC on a stretcher and his sister-in-law, Loren, standing outside the building with other frightened parents.

"It was just very painful. It was very surreal," he said. "That's been one of the best adjectives to use about this whole thing.

"We see this kind of stuff happening every day," he continued. "But you're removed from it. It takes place in Colorado. It takes place in Georgia. It takes place in Kosovo. It doesn't take place in your backyard, to your family."

Now that it has, the Marin family has been deluged with good wishes. For example, when Ostroff sent an e-mail to family and friends informing them of what had happened to Joshua, the couple received many messages of support in return.

"The answers I got back from family and friends as far away as Africa really helped," she said. "The solidarity you get from friends and family is really the thing that gets you through. It has really made the difference each day in how we deal with this."

Her husband echoes the thought.

He also talks about the need for stricter gun-control measures — a longtime concern that is now even more pressing in his mind.

"There are some really sick people out there and it's really easy for sick people to get guns," he said. "I think in our country we have to come to some resolution about this pretty quickly because it's not getting any better."

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.