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Suspect in shootings of two Jewish men in L.A. is charged with federal hate crimes

L.A. Mayor Karen Bass along with FBI, LAPD and Jewish community leaders at a Friday news conference announcing the arrest of Jaime Tran on suspicion of shooting two Jewish men leaving religious services in Pico-Robertson this week. [Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times]

A man with a history of making antisemitic statements was charged Friday with federal hate crimes after he allegedly shot two Jewish men as they left religious services in Los Angeles in recent days.

Jaime Tran, 28, was charged with hate crime acts in connection with the Wednesday and Thursday shootings, and admitted to police after his arrest that he had searched for a kosher market on Yelp before the attacks, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Friday in federal court in Los Angeles.

Both victims survived the attacks.

LAPD officers patrol on horseback along Pico Boulevard on Friday after the recent shootings of two Jewish men in the neighborhood. [Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times]

Tran had a disturbing history of antisemitic threats, according to the complaint, including emailing dozens of former classmates that Jews are “primitive” and repeatedly texting another former classmate with threatening messages such as “I want you dead, Jew.”

“We were lucky that we’re not going to funerals. That’s just the reality,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center said at a Friday news conference announcing the charges. “Tomorrow we go to our services with our children. You don’t want to give bigots … victory.”

The unsealed criminal complaint shed new light on the two shootings, which prosecutors said were motivated by the alleged shooter’s animus toward Jewish people.

The first shooting occurred around 10 a.m. Wednesday near the intersection of Shenandoah and Cashio streets, when a man in his 40s was shot in the back while walking to his vehicle, authorities said. The second was around 8 a.m. Thursday near Pickford and South Bedford streets — about a block away — when a man walking home was shot in the arm.

Both victims were shot at close range while leaving religious services wearing black jackets and head coverings that “visibly identified” their Jewish faith, according to the complaint.

People pass by Elat Market along Pico Boulevard in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles on Friday. [Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times]

Witnesses and victims told police they saw the shooter in a gray Honda Civic.

A Los Angeles Police Department officer who responded to the scene of Thursday’s shooting saw an Asian man driving a Honda Civic, according to the complaint. She took a photo of the car, reviewed surveillance footage from the shootings, and determined that the car and the driver in the footage were the same ones she saw in person, according to the complaint.

Police tracked the car’s license plate and determined that Tran was the registered owner.

Officers tracked him to Palm Springs on Thursday based on his cellphone location, and he was arrested in Cathedral City by local police after a report of a man firing a gun near a Honda Civic, according to the complaint.

Police found Tran standing by the front door of the car, with an AK-style rifle and a .380-caliber handgun sitting on the driver’s seat. He was arrested without incident.

Joseph Haber, 55, outside Elat Market. [Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times]

When he was interviewed by police, Tran admitted that he had decided to shoot someone near the kosher market he looked up on Yelp and knew his victims were Jewish because of their “head gear,” the complaint says.

He asked police whether the victims were dead, according to federal prosecutors. He also told police he had been living in his car for more than a year and obtained the guns from someone in Arizona.

Tran was expelled from his dental school in 2018 and sent antisemitic messages to former classmates years later, in 2022, according to the complaint.

Los Angeles police officers patrol on horseback at Pico and Robertson boulevards on Friday. [Credit: Terry Castleman / Los Angeles Times]

Stephane Sultan, who runs Trattoria Natalie on Pico Boulevard near Bedford Street, was outside his restaurant when he heard the gunshots Thursday.

At first, he and his colleagues thought it might have been the popping sounds of a souped-up car muffler. But when they saw police arriving, they knew it was the second shooting in two days in the area.

“Of course everyone was scared yesterday,” Sultan said Friday. “Everybody at the restaurant at the market was talking about it.”

Police cruisers, LAPD officers on horseback and volunteers from the security nonprofit Magen Am patrolled the neighborhood Friday morning, a show of force beyond even the stepped-up patrols that followed antisemitic mass shootings such as the Pittsburgh Tree of Life massacre in 2018, as well as major Jewish holidays.

“I’ve seen more police just walking from our home today than in the last 30 years combined,” said local Amy Raff, who stopped to talk to neighbors about the four mounted police on the corner.

Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky, whose district includes Pico-Robertson, said earlier Thursday that she was concerned by the shootings, which coincide with “a rise in antisemitic attacks in recent months.”

Tali Goldstein, 5, visiting from London with her family, looks toward LAPD officers on horseback along Pico Boulevard on Friday. [Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times]

LAPD statistics show a 24% increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes last year compared with 2021. There were 89 victims in 2022 and 72 in 2021, according to the statistics.

The LAPD’s Hate Crime Unit reported 643 total hate crimes in 2022, a 13% increase over 2021’s total of 567, and more than double the total of 257 reached only five years ago.

In a statement at the Friday news conference announcing the charges, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass praised law enforcement for ending the terrifying few days with an arrest.

“We can rest hopefully a little bit easier,” she said. “Still, antisemitism and terror are tragically on the rise across our city and across our nation. My administration is resolute against hate, and we have made it a chief component of our public safety agenda.”


(c) 2023, Los Angeles Times



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