Middle-class America was again confronted with the spectre of armed violence in its back yard, not in the deprived inner cities, and it reacted with alarm and outrage. Coming after the killings in Atlanta last month and in a Colorado high school earlier this year, the shootings were a reminder of how vulnerable the country is. "This is another senseless act of gun violence," said President Bill Clinton. He called for Americans to "intensify our resolve to make America a safer place".
A boy, reported as being either five or eight, was seriously ill after receiving wounds to the back and abdomen. The other victims - boys aged eight and six, a teenage girl and a receptionist in her 50s or 60s - were in a stable condition.
Swat teams searched homes around the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, but found nothing. A Jewish Defense League group branded the attack as a hate crime against their community, and accused the head of the centre of failing to provide adequate security.
Details were slow to emerge, and contradictory. Police said the suspect was white, heavyset, bald and around 40. He was armed with an Uzi and wore green. Earlier, they said the attacker was a teenager wearing black and grey.
It appears the gunman walked into the centre shortly before 11am, fired in the lobby, walked down a corridor, pointed his weapon into a classroom and then fled. He fired 20 to 30 rounds in all.
Apart from the injured, 22 children were inside attending pre-school. They were led out and escorted to nearby buildings, where they were guarded by a heavy presence of armed police, fire-department officers and federal agents.
The centre was also hosting a camp for older children but they were away, visiting the Museum of Tolerance in west Los Angeles, which focuses on the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.