BERKELEY -- As the sun set on the wooden ceiling beams at Ashkenaz on March 16, dozens gathered to show support for two employees who were shot less than 24 hours before as dozens of patrons danced to Brazilian samba music in the crowded venue.

The pair were shot and seriously injured during a botched robbery at the popular all-ages Berkeley dance hall. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this week, the club, whose slogan is "Dancing for Peace," has endured a tragic history.

In 1996, Ashkenaz founder David Nadel was shot to death after he ejected a drunken, rowdy patron.

On Saturday evening, hugs were shared and tears were shed as friends began pouring into the nonprofit cafe, learning of updates of those wounded, and some learning the news for the first time. The two employees, who were in stable condition at a hospital, according to staff, have not been named by police.

"This is a place for people to gather, and what happened was such a shock," said Kristen Sbrogna, the club's program director, as she looked to the entrance and hugged a woman.

Police said two armed robbers entered the crowded hall about 12:05 a.m. and demanded cash from workers. One employee struggled with a robber near the front door and was shot, Sbrogna said; the other was shot in the hall's cafe.


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As police arrived, they spotted one suspect fleeing into a yard nearby. They surrounded the block, brought in a police dog, and searched yard to yard until they found a suspect behind a building in the 1300 block of San Pablo Avenue.

The other suspect remains at large. Police did not identify the suspect in custody or give a description of the other person.

It wasn't the first tragedy at the community space.

Nadel was killed in 1996 after an unruly patron whom he had been kicked out returned to the club and shot him. Berkeley police have offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Nadel's suspected killer, Juan Rivera Perez, but investigators think he may have fled to Mexico.

Though Nadel founded Ashkenaz as a space primarily for folk music, its cultural offerings have grown through the years, now encompassing music and dance from around the world.

"This is a real wake-up call," Sbrogna added. "It's part of a much bigger picture of violence in our society, and the need for more gun control.

"I could definitely see our community getting even more active about some of these issues. We're going to continue to be open and encourage people to come out and stand in solidarity with us and support us."

Saturday night's performances would go on, Sbrogna said, including a tribute for her injured colleagues.

"We do what people all over the world do in the face of violence and war and fear," she said. "We go on, and we keep dancing and we stay together."

Jackie Gay Wilson, former head of the nonprofit's board of directors, said the message was about developing "empathy and compassion."

"Those two young men, probably locals, have total disregard for themselves and others," she said, "and their actions show what they are taught by society."

Following a swing dancing lesson, Baba Ken, a regular face at the dance hall, gave a short prayer to the roughly 100-person crowd that had gathered to enjoy a night of dancing but to also show support for the wounded.

"The fun must continue, the peace must continue. We can't stop that," he said. "This place is your home and peace and love will always be under this roof."

Anyone with information on the incident is asked to call Berkeley police at 510-981-5742 or 510-981-5900. Anonymous tips can be submitted to Bay Area Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

Contact Daniel M. Jimenez at djimenez@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/dmjreports.