Motive unclear, suspect still at large in North Hollywood synagogue shooting

| October 29, 2009

Los Angeles police continued their search for a suspect and a motive in the shooting of two men early this morning in the underground parking lot of a North Hollywood synagogue.

A 17-year-old who was detained for questioning shortly after the shooting was released this afternoon, and police backed away from initial claims that the attack was motivated by religious hate.

Although police initially said the suspect was a black man wearing a black hoodie, law enforcement sources later said the investigation was wide open and that police were investigating all possibilities, including whether the gunman specifically targeted either of the victims.

One source said detectives were not certain of the suspect's race.

Several law enforcement sources also said investigators were looking at whether the shootings were related to a business or personal dispute. The sources said detectives believe one of the victims was the target, and that the second victim may have been shot because he witnessed the attack.

Speaking to reporters outside the taped-off synagogue, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the incident "a senseless act of violence." But the mayor was careful to temper worries that the shooting was a hate crime.

"None of us should presume or speculate more about this other than it was a random act of violence," he said.

The unidentified gunman walked into the underground parking garage of Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic synagogue at 12405 Sylvan St. shortly before 6:20 a.m., said LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore. He approached a man who was parking his car to attend prayer service.

"Without any words," Moore said, the suspect shot the man in the leg. He then shot a second man who had also arrived for prayers. The second victim also was wounded in the leg. The gunman then fled from the garage, and witnesses called 911.

The victims, Maor Ben-Nissan, 37, and Allen Lasry, whose age was unavailable but thought to be in his 40s, were in good condition at hospitals.

Detectives are "working with [the victims] to understand more information," Moore said. They do not believe the motive was robbery, according to LAPD sources, who spoke to The Times on the condition they not be named because the investigation was ongoing.

Immediately after the shooting, LAPD officials alerted other synagogues in Los Angeles about the shooting, and police stepped up patrols at Jewish religious institutions.

Adat Yeshurun is in the heart of the San Fernando Valley's Orthodox Jewish community and within walking distance of kosher markets and other synagogues. Many people move to the area so they can walk to temple.

Yehuda Oz, 53, a man of Tunisian descent, has attended the Sephardic Jewish temple for 15 years and arrived early this morning to begin his regular morning prayers.

About an hour later, as he prayed with some 15 others in the temple's quiet sanctuary, four gunshots broke the silence, he said. He heard screams from the parking lot then saw two men stumble into the temple.

Their blood spread over the floor as people rushed to stop the bleeding, Oz said, but no one inside saw the shooter.

"Maybe it was crazy person. Maybe he was drugged up. Maybe it was a Jew. We don't know," Oz said, nervously adjusting his yarmulke as he stood outside the taped-off scene with two friends.

Oz said the two men who were shot were latecomers who had just parked their cars.

The temple, which has a congregation of mostly Moroccan and other North African Jews, installed security cameras years ago to discourage attacks, Yehuda said.

"This is a good place," he said.

A girls' school at the synagogue with 112 students canceled classes today. At least two rabbis from neighboring synagogues who were at the scene this morning said they were counseling their own congregants to stay calm.

"The feeling is that we've got to keep our eyes open for each other," said Rabbi Nachman Nabend of Chabad of North Hollywood. "It makes me angry when anyone gets targeted."

At Adat Ari El, a synagogue about two miles away, executive director Joan Klein was increasing security by closing multiple entrances and adding more guards.

"We're watchful," said Klein, whose 750-family congregation is the fourth-largest conservative synagogue in L.A.. "We're taking extra precautions and we're paying attention to what's going on in the community. We're still open for business."

At Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, Ben-Nissan was undergoing surgery, his friends and family members said.

His wife, brother-in-law and friends gathered at the hospital, drinking coffee and hovering around the TV, watching live coverage from the synagogue. Ben-Nissan lives in North Hollywood with his wife, Anat, and 2-year-old son. He owns a tile store and is very devout, going to synagogue every morning, friends said.

"I haven't seen my husband yet," said Anat, whose eyes were red.

Ben-Nissan's brother-in-law, who did not want to give his name, said he had arrived at the synagogue a few minutes before Ben-Nissan and was inside when he heard four shots.

"We panicked and ran," the brother-in-law said. As he went out, he saw Ben-Nissan hobbling up the stairs, blood on his leg and the steps.

"He called my name," the brother-in-law said. "I ran to him.",0,1861601.story

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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