Federal prosecutors have charged a man with two hate crimes after he allegedly shot two different Jewish men earlier this week, the Department of Justice announced Friday.
Jaime Tran, 28, is accused of targeting and shooting two Jewish men as they were leaving religious services at two separate synagogues in the same predominantly Jewish neighborhood, US Attorney Martin Estrada said in a news release.
An “exhaustive” search for the suspect was launched after the victims were shot separately in the city’s western Pico-Robertson neighborhood on Wednesday and Thursday, about three blocks apart, the Los Angeles Police Department said in a release.
Tran was taken into federal custody after being arrested by police February 17 in Riverside County, about an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles, where he previously resided, authorities said. Detectives found several pieces of evidence, including guns, the Los Angeles Police Department said.
The suspect allegedly targeted the victims “because they were Jewish or he believed them to be Jewish” and was “motivated by hate,” Estrada said.
CNN has reached out to Tran’s attorney for comment.
The two men were taken to local hospitals and were in stable condition, a police spokesperson told CNN.
Officials have not publicly identified the two victims, who were dressed in a manner that visibly identified their Jewish faith as they wore black coats and head coverings, Estrada said.
Tran was ordered jailed without bond by US Magistrate Judge Margo A. Rocconi during his first court hearing on Friday, Estrada’s office said. No plea was entered during the hearing, but Tran is set to be arraigned on March 9, Estrada’s office added.
If convicted on both hate crime charges, Tran could face up to life in prison, according to Estrada.
The announcement of the arrest confirmed earlier reporting by CNN, which was the first news organization to report the suspect was taken into custody.
Earlier, authorities said they were searching for a suspect described as an Asian male with a mustache and goatee, possibly driving a white compact car. A license plate recorded near the scene of one of the shootings assisted authorities in locating and arresting the suspect, a law enforcement source told CNN.
Timeline of shootings detailed in affidavit
Prosecutors outlined the two shootings allegedly committed by Tran, as well as the details of his arrest, in an affidavit supporting a federal criminal complaint filed Friday.
The first shooting took place around 10 a.m. on Wednesday, when the victim was walking to his car from the synagogue and noticed another car, later identified as Tran’s gray Honda Civic, driving towards him, the affidavit says.
As the victim opened the driver’s side door and turned his back to the Honda Civic, he heard a loud bang and realized he was shot on the right side of his back, according to the affidavit.
At least three witnesses told the Los Angeles Police Department that they either saw the suspect or heard the shots fired, the affidavit says.
The second shooting occurred around 8 a.m. on Thursday when that victim was also leaving religious services at a different synagogue located roughly one block away from where the first victim was shot, the affidavit says.
While he waited to cross the street, the victim made eye contact with a man in a “dark colored Sedan,” walked behind the car and then heard three loud shots before realizing he was shot in the arm,says the affidavit, which does not say if anyone witnessed the second shooting.
Police reviewed at nearby video footage from a camera near the site of the second shooting and found a car later identified as Tran’s, the affidavit says.
Around 5:45 p.m. on Thursday, police in Cathedral City received a report of a man shooting a firearm near a Honda Civic, according to the affidavit. Officers located Tran, along with an AK-style rifle and a .380-caliber handgun in the front seat, and arrested him, it says.
Shootings come amid rise in antisemitism
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, said she’s been speaking with community and religious leaders regarding the attacks and said that many residents felt unsafe in their community.
“These attacks against members of our Jewish community in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood are absolutely unacceptable,” Bass said in a statement.
“At a time of increased anti-Semitism, these acts have understandably set communities on edge. Just last December, I stood blocks away from where these incidents occurred as we celebrated the first night of Hanukkah together,” she added.
Estrada expressed “great concern” over the rise in hate crimes and said “federal law enforcement will continue to do everything possible to carry out our important mission to safeguard the community, to uphold civil rights and to uphold the rule of law.”
Regional Director of Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles, Jeffrey Abrams, said the Jewish community has felt “terrorized” since the attacks, despite a suspect in custody.
“The facts of the case led to this crime being investigated as a hate crime,” Los Angeles police said.
Suspect has history of antisemitism, affidavit says
Tran said in an interview with investigators, according to the affidavit, that he specifically targeted Jewish people and has a history of antisemitic acts.
During the interview, Tran told investigators he “searched for a ‘kosher’ market” on Yelp, drove to the market and then “selected his victims because of their ‘head gear,” according to the affidavit.
When speaking with investigators, Tran allegedly asked if the victims died, the affidavit says.
Tran allegedly had a history of harassing a former classmate who is Jewish and sending antisemitic messages, the affidavit says. Between last August and November, Tran allegedly texted the classmate at least nine “antisemitic and threatening” messages, calling the victim slurs and threatening to kill them, the affidavit says.
According to the victim, Tran was allegedly expelled from their school in 2018, the affidavit says, but did not say why. The document does say how the former antisemitic messaging was handled or if he was charged.
Tran allegedly sent out emails to dozens of former classmates last November and December as well, with antisemitic phrases and conspiracy theories, and saying people could blame Jewish people for the Covid-19 pandemic, the affidavit says. It is also unclear if this incident resulted in criminal charges.
In July, Tran was arrested and charged for bringing a gun to a college campus, according to arrest records from the Long Beach Police Department.
He was charged in Los Angeles Superior Court with felony possession of a firearm on school grounds shortly after his arrest and later released on $30,000 bail.
“At the time of that filing he had no previous criminal record and we were not aware of any allegations of threats against the Jewish community,” said Tiffiny Blacknell, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Tran is expected to appear in court for the 2022 case on February 28th.
Synagogue community is ‘shaken’
The man shot Thursday is a member of the Beit El synagogue, which is about two blocks away from where police say he was shot, the synagogue confirmed to CNN. They did not identify the victim but said his injuries were minor.
“The victim that was shot today is a pillar of our community here at Beit El. He has been a dear member for many years,” Beit El said in an email Thursday. They added, “The victim had just concluded morning prayer services, walked to his car donned in his kippah, and was shot three times at point-blank range.”
“Our community is shaken to its core,” by the two shootings, Beit El said. “But we are strong and united.”
The synagogue said it is working with police to implement security measures. Los Angeles police and the sheriff’s department also said they are increasing law enforcement presence and patrols around the neighborhood and Jewish places of worship.
“The Los Angeles Police Department is aware of the concern these crimes have raised in the surrounding community. We have been in close contact with religious leaders as well as individual and organizational community stakeholders,” the department’s release said.
The shootings in Los Angeles happened just a week after San Francisco authorities added a hate crime enhancement to charges against a man they said fired a replica gun inside a Bay-area synagogue earlier this month. No one was hurt.
The hate crime allegation against the suspect is tied to statements he made during the incident as well as social media posts he made involving “several postings of an individual in Nazi-type clothing,” San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said in a news conference. An attorney for the suspect, Deputy Public Defender Olivia Taylor, said outside the courthouse that the man is “not guilty of any hate crime.”
And in December, a 63-year-old man was assaulted in New York’s Central Park in what police called an antisemitic attack.
CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe, Camila Bernal and Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.