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Hate crimes charged in wounding of 2 Jewish men in LA

Martin Estrada, Karen Bass
Posted at 3:15 PM, Feb 17, 2023

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man who allegedly shot and wounded two Jewish men as they left synagogues in Los Angeles this week was charged Friday with federal hate crimes.

Jaime Tran, 28, allegedly carried out the attacks on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said at a press conference.

“For the past two days our community has experienced two horrific acts," Estrada said. "An individual motivated by antisemitism, hatred for people in the Jewish community, committed two tremendously horrible acts targeting individuals because of their Jewish faith.”

Both victims wore clothing that identified their faith, including black coats and head coverings, Estrada said. Tran, arrested Thursday evening, told law enforcement that he looked online for a “kosher market” and decided to shoot someone nearby, according at an affidavit filed by the FBI. He also admitted to shooting someone the previous day, the affidavit said.

Tran was scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court Friday afternoon but was not expected to enter a plea, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Tran's federal public defender did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The first victim was shot at close range in the lower back, Estrada said. The second victim was shot in the upper arm, also at close range. In both cases, the shots were fired from a car.

Tran said he selected the victims because of what they wore on their heads, the FBI affidavit said.

Tran has a “history of antisemitic and threatening conduct,” the affidavit said, citing a review of emails, text messages and unspecified reports. In 2022, he emailed former classmates using insulting language about Jewish people, and he threatened a former Jewish classmate, saying he wanted them dead, according to the affidavit.

“We were lucky that we’re not going to funerals. That’s just the reality,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center said during Friday's news conference. “Tomorrow we go to our services with our children."

Tran was arrested about 100 miles (161 kilometers) east of Los Angeles in the Riverside County community of Cathedral City near Palm Springs.

According to the affidavit, Los Angeles police officers investigating the second shooting used video from a camera at an intersection to identify an older model gray Honda that appeared to be involved.

An officer who responded to assist saw and photographed a man driving a dark gray Honda Civic. The image captured the license plate, which was registered to Tran, whose driver's license photo was consistent with witness descriptions of the shooter, the affidavit said.

License plate readers showed the Honda was in the area of the two shootings at the times they occurred. Police identified a mobile phone number associated with Tran and location data showed it was in the Palm Springs area Thursday afternoon.

Around 5:45 p.m., Cathedral City police responded to a call from someone who heard the sound of a gunshot and saw a man with a gun near a Honda Civic.

Officers found Tran standing next to the car and they could see an “AK-style rifle” and a .380-caliber handgun in plain view on the driver's seat, the affidavit said. The officers also found a spent shell casing.

The U.S. attorney said that Tran had been a resident of the city of Riverside.

In the FBI interview, Tran said he was homeless and had been living out of the car for 12 to 14 months, and that he obtained the firearms from someone he did not know in Arizona, the affidavit said.