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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Weston teen dies one month after being wounded in Tel Aviv bombing

By Marlene Naanes
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

May 15, 2006

After many surgeries, more prayers and an immeasurable amount of hope, a Weston teen injured in a Tel Aviv suicide bombing died Sunday, a month after shrapnel tore through his body.

Members of Daniel Wultz's tightknit school and religious community were shocked to learn of the 16-year-old's death. Family and friends visited the young basketball player and asked for prayers on Web sites as his condition first seemed to improve, then deteriorated. They shuddered when he lost part of a leg and gasped when he lost his life, a victim of a terrorist act.

"Daniel really put up a fight because he really wanted to live," said Debbie Gober, vice president of Daniel's high school, David Posnack Hebrew Day School. "This was a tragedy. It's not the news you want to hear on Mother's Day."

On April 17, Daniel captured international attention after he and his father, Tuly, were injured during a Passover trip to Israel. Tuly Wultz was dining with his devout son on the patio of the kosher Mayor's Falafel when a suicide bomber, thought to be a member of the Islamic Jihad, blew up a bag of explosives and nails. Ten people were killed and about 60 were hurt.

Tuly Wultz's leg was broken. Doctors gave Daniel a minimal chance of surviving.

Ever since, Internet sites, Daniel's school and his temple, Chabad Lubavitch of Weston, were on a campaign of support for the teen who wanted to become a rabbi. During his struggle, Daniel lost a kidney, spleen and part of a leg but gave well-wishers hope when, about a week after the attack, he regained consciousness and communicated through blinks.

The teen with the penchant for questioning his teachers later lost consciousness and endured numerous blood transfusions. He finally succumbed to infection and organ failure, Gober said.

Daniel's family will return to Florida today and will conduct his funeral Tuesday at the Chabad Lubavitch. The Wultz family was on a plane headed to the United States Sunday night and could not be reached for comment.

"So much has happened so fast," said family friend Tammy Fayne. "The family needs a second to just take a breath. We'll be there for them."

Last week was particularly difficult for the teen, said Rabbi Yisroel Spalter, who is preparing for Daniel's funeral.

"He was not showing any signs of improving," said Laurence Kutler, headmaster of Daniel's school. "He was in and out of consciousness."

As news of Daniel's death spread through the community, those who had been praying for his recovery turned to praying for the Wultzes. His parents, older sister and many from his extended family spent countless hours at his side at a Tel Aviv hospital.

"The whole community was really incredible," Gober said. "Everyone sent out their prayers. It was heartfelt and very emotional."

Daniel's high school will have a memorial service today. The school will take on the sad task of consoling students and providing grief counselors for a second time.

The school also will focus on helping the children understand their good wishes weren't in vain.

"I don't want them to give up in the hope of stopping killings," Gober said. "This shouldn't have happened."

The school doesn't plan to stop sending students to Israel despite what happened to Daniel. Students went on a planned trip shortly after the attacks and visited his hospital.

Many Jewish families send their children to summer camps in Israel despite terrorist attacks, said Judit Groisman, executive director of Women's International Zionist Organization, a Jewish women's and children's group.

"We're not going to let them do this to us," Groisman said of terrorists. "They will not succeed."

Daniel's classmate Brittany Fayne collapsed in grief when she heard the news, said her mother, Tammy Fayne.

"She was just hysterically crying," Tammy Fayne said. "She said, `I can't believe he's not coming back.'"

Brittany and other classmates made bracelets as a symbol of Daniel's return, promising to wear them until he came home. The teens also had sewn a quilt and created a card for Daniel's parents to read at his bedside.

"They had hopes that he was coming back," Fayne said. "They knew he wasn't well, but they hoped he would be all right."

"We're a small family atmosphere here," Gober said of the 160-student high school. "The students really feel for each other."

The Chabad Lubavitch dedicated much of its Passover observance to Daniel. The Miami Heat, his favorite team, even joined in the vigil, sending autographed photos and T-shirts to the teen.

Rabbi Spalter, who heads Chabad Lubavitch, visited Daniel's bedside and said the amount of support was overwhelming. All involved are numb after the news of his death, the rabbi said.

"We're just in shock," Spalter said. "We're all mourning here."

Marlene Naanes can be reached at mnaanes@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7922.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.

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