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Police arrest suspect with ‘history of animus’ toward Jews in shootings of Los Angeles Jewish men

Both victims were leaving services when shot and both sustained minor injuries

LOS ANGELES — Police arrested a suspect Thursday night in connection with a pair of shootings of Jewish men after they left morning prayer services in Los Angeles.

According to a statement from the Los Angeles Police Department, the suspect, who was taken without incident, was in possession of a rifle and a handgun when he was arrested in Riverside County, east of the city, at around 5:45 p.m., less than nine hours after the second shooting occurred. 

In a statement following the arrest, the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles said the suspect “has a history of animus towards the Jewish community” and that authorities had confirmed that the incidents will be treated as hate crimes.

“We are encouraged to also have learned that the U.S. Attorney will take the case and file federal charges on civil rights violations,” the Federation said in the statement.

The Anti-Defamation League commended the arrest in a tweet. “Thank you to @LAPDWestBureau for their quick action. This is a relief. Tonight, we can rest easy. Tomorrow, we will continue to fight against antisemitism.”

Police said they will continue, “in an abundance of caution,” to keep a heightened police presence and patrols “around Jewish places of worship and surrounding neighborhoods throughout the weekend.”

Gunfire

The shootings occurred Wednesday and Thursday within blocks of one another in Pico-Robertson, the largest Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles. In each shooting, a man driving a car shot a handgun out of the window, striking one person and causing minor injuries.

Police said Thursday afternoon the same suspect may have been responsible for both incidents and released a description of a man with a mustache and a goatee.

A man in his 40s was shot in Wednesday’s incident, which happened outside services conducted at a private residence. A man in his 70s was shot in Thursday’s, which occurred near the Pinto Center, an Orthodox synagogue.

The shootings have rattled the Los Angeles Jewish community at a time when antisemitic incidents — against people and property and online — are rising in the U.S. and in Los Angeles. The leadership of the Pinto Center said in a statement to the Forward that they believe their fellow congregant, who they said was shot three times and released from the hospital, was attacked because he is Jewish. “It is clear that there is no motive to this crime other than pure hatred and antisemitism,” they said.

Their rabbi, Moshe Pinto, said in the statement that it was a miracle that the congregant sustained only minor injuries: “It is a true miracle from G-d Almighty, and we thank G-d for this tremendous miracle. The victim will be reciting the special Blessing of Praise for this miracle this Shabbat.”

Community response

Police on Thursday said they had reallocated officers to provide a “highly visible and preventative presence in the area” and that the department’s Major Crimes Unit, which handles hate crimes, had assumed responsibility for the investigation. Jewish institutions in the area heightened security and some Jews told local media that they planned to stay home from synagogue over Shabbat. A police car was parked outside the Pinto Center Thursday before evening services and six officers stood across the street. Local schools, Jewish and non-Jewish, kept students inside.

Public officials, including Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, expressed concern. “These attacks against members of our Jewish community are unacceptable,” Bass said in a tweet.

There were bloodstains on the sidewalk near where the second victim was shot. A bystander took a video of him being loaded onto an ambulance on a stretcher, and posted it on Instagram.

“It is sickening that in Los Angeles today, two Jews have been shot in the street in two days, as they were leaving prayers,” said Rabbi Yossi Eilfort in a statement. He is president of Magen Am, a Jewish security service that was on the scene Wednesday. “Regardless of the motivation of the shootings, Jews deserve to be secure, living and serving G-d in peace.”

Community and police reaction to the shootings intensified after the Thursday shooting, which occurred at 8:10 a.m. Police swarmed the area, and several hours later several police vehicles and at least a dozen officers remained at the scene. Streets around the area remained blocked off for nearly four hours. 

Police remain on the scene hours after a Jewish man was shot on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2022, after leaving morning services at the Pinto Synagogue in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles. Photo by Louis Keene

The first incident occurred near the intersection of Shenandoah Street and Cashio Avenue, at around 10 a.m. The first victim was taken to a hospital and released later that day, said Eilfort. The Forward was unable to reach either victim for comment.

Police ask anyone with information about the shootings to call 1-877-LAPD-24-7 and anyone who wants to remain anonymous should call 1-800-222-TIPS.

Editor’s note: This is a developing story and may be updated as information emerges.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect name for the first victim. 

JTA contributed to this story.

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