L.A. police say there is no evidence of a hate crime or terrorism in the shooting Thursday of two Orthodox Jews in the parking lot of a Los Angeles-area synagogue.
The shooting occurred at Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Synagogue in North Hollywood, Calif., when a man described as dark-skinned and wearing a black hooded sweatshirt approached a congregant in the synagogue’s underground garage around 6:20 a.m.
Apparently without exchanging words, the gunman attempted to shoot the congregant before his gun jammed. As another congregant approached, the suspect fired shots at both of them, hitting Maor Ben-Nissan, 53, and Allen Lasry in the legs. Both victims were rushed to a hospital, where they underwent surgery and were reported in good condition.
Adat Yeshurun is located in an area with a large Orthodox population and numerous kosher stores, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reported.
Yehuda Oz, 57, was inside the synagogue with about 20 other congregants when he heard four shots. Then one of the victims ran into the synagogue, bleeding and screaming for help, Oz said.
The shooter fled on foot. Police arrested a 17-year old African American as a possible suspect but later released him. Detectives are currently studying videos taken by the synagogue’s security cameras.
Police initially listed the shooting as a hate crime, but sources told the Los Angeles Times that they are looking into the possiblity that it was related to a business or personal dispute. They said one of the victims may have been the target and the other shot because he witnessed the attack.
Adat Yeshurun has a widely diverse congregation, with some 150 families from Cuba, Argentina, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Algiers, Tunisia, Libya and Israel.
Among the first responders to the crime were a Hatzolah emergency aid team.
John Fishel, president of the L.A. Jewish Federation, said, “Regrettably, these attacks seem to go in cycles and peak near the time of Jewish holidays. There’s a fine line between being alert and prepared, but not giving in to excessive anxiety or panic.”
The Jewish Federation and the Anti-Defamation League joined police in urging all synagogues and Jewish schools to take extra precautions.
Adding to the concern of the Jewish community, a police bomb squad investigated a suspicious-looking shopping bag at the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple and cordoned off the building on Thursday. Police gave an all-clear after a three-hour search.
Security guards making the rounds early Thursday morning had reported an unattended canvas shopping bag inside the gates, which had not been there the night before.
Howard Kaplan, the temple’s executive director, said, “In light of the North Hollywood shooting this morning, we decided to err on the side of caution.”