A gunman shot and wounded two men in the parking garage of a North Hollywood synagogue Thursday, frightening worshippers who heard gunshots and screams before the bleeding victims stumbled in during morning services.
Authorities initially put Jewish schools and temples on alert before saying the attack appeared to be isolated.
Two men, ages 38 and 53, were shot in the legs near the Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic Orthodox synagogue in the San Fernando Valley, Moore said. The men, both members of the synagogue, arrived in separate cars for the morning service shortly before 6.30 am and were in a stairwell leading up to the synagogue sanctuary when the gunman shot them several times, police said.
The victims, who were hospitalized in good condition, told police the attacker did not speak, Moore said.
Police detained a 17-year-old high school student near the temple because he matched a "very loose" description of the attacker, who was described as a black man wearing a hoodie, Deputy Police Chief Michel Moore said. They later released the youth, saying while he was still a potential suspect, they didn't have enough evidence to hold him.
One worshipper, Yehuda Oz, said he and about 14 others were praying in the temple when they heard four gunshots and screams from the parking area. Two men stumbled into the temple, Oz said, and people rushed to stop their bleeding.
No one saw the attacker, he said.
"Maybe it was crazy person," Yehuda told the Los Angeles Times. "Maybe he was drugged up. Maybe it was a Jew. We don't know."
Scene of shooting (Photo: FOX NEWS)
Even as investigators tried to find a motive, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials moved to calm fears that the attack was part of any organized anti-Semitic violence.
"We certainly recognize the location and we're sensitive to that," Moore said. "But we do not know that this was a hate crime at all."
Police searched the area for several hours but found no one. An alert that sent extra police patrols to local Jewish schools and synagogues was called off.
Security camera footage from the synagogue shows the suspect but not the shooting, and the quality is too poor for investigators to identify the man, Commander Jorge Villegas said.
The attack occurred 10 miles from Jewish community center where white supremacist Buford Furrow wounded three children, a teenager and an adult, in 1999. Furrow later killed a Filipino letter carrier on another street.
Furrow, who is serving a life sentence without chance of parole, told the Daily News of Los Angeles in a letter last month that he had renounced his racist views and regretted the pain he had caused.
The wife of Amram Gabay, Adat Yeshurun's Rabbi, told Ynet that "Those injured were shot while on their way to attend prayer services. My husband was inside the synagogue and the shooting took place in the parking lot."
Shlomo Mirvis, a representative of Bnei Akiva in the west coast, told Ynet that "people here are in shock. They can't believe what just happened. It's not something that we expected. The last incident was the one at the Holocaust memorial museum, which was also an unusual event.
"The synagogue is located in the Valley, where many Israelis live. It's a very central synagogue in Hollywood. Bnei Akiva holds weekly Saturday activities there," Said Mirvis.
Mirvis also commented on the police's intent to investigate the shooting as a hate crime, saying that "the situation here is better relatively to other places, but only two weeks ago there was a demonstration against Jews and Israel. A few dozen protestors stood outside of the Jewish school in the area and made calls against Israel. The students were released early so they would not witness the event."
Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles Yaakov Dayan, said "we don't know if the shooting had an anti-Semitic background or not. The question is why he shot those two individuals, and not all fifty worshippers. Therefore, it is not clear whether this was a hate crime. At the moment all of the witnesses are being investigated, including the Rabbi and the suspect himself."