LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Los Angeles Police say there is no evidence of a hate crime or connections to terrorism in the shooting of two Orthodox Jews at a Los Angeles-area synagogue.
Police initially listed the Oct. 30 shooting at the Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Synagogue in North Hollywood, Calif., as a hate crime, but sources told the Los Angeles Times that police are now looking into the possibility that it was related to a business or personal dispute. Police said one victim may have been the target and the other was shot because he witnessed the attack.
Maor Ben-Nissan, 53, and Allen Lasry both were shot in the legs. They were rushed to a hospital and underwent surgery, and were reported in good condition.
The shooter fled on foot. Police arrested a 17-year old African-American as a possible suspect, but released him. Detectives are studying videos taken by the synagogue’s security cameras.
The same morning, a police bomb squad investigated a suspicious-looking shopping bag at the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple and cordoned off the building. Police gave an all-clear after a three-hour search.
Security guards making the rounds 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.”
In the Adat Yeshurun shooting, a man described as dark skinned and wearing a black hooded sweatshirt had approached Ben-Nissan and Lasry in the synagogue’s underground garage at approximately 6:20 a.m. Oct. 30 and attempted to shoot one before his gun jammed. When the second congregant approached, the gunman shot both men.
Yehuda Oz, 57, was inside the synagogue with about 20 others when he heard four shots. One of the victims then ran into the synagogue, bleeding and screaming for help, Oz said.
Among the first responders to the crime were a Hatzolah emergency aid team, as well as representatives of Chabad, the Anti-Defamation League, Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles’ family service, education and rabbinical agencies.
“Regrettably, these attacks seem to go in cycles and peak near the time of Jewish holidays," said John Fishel, president of the L.A. Jewish federation. "There’s a fine line between being alert and prepared, but not giving in to excessive anxiety or panic.”
The federation and ADL joined police in urging synagogues and Jewish schools to take extra precautions.
Adat Yeshurun has a diverse congregation, with some 150 families from Cuba, Argentina, Panama, Guatemala, Mexico, Algiers, Tunisia, Libya and Israel. The synagogue is located in an area with a large Orthodox Jewish population and numerous kosher stores, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reported.