(KTLA) — A man suspected of shooting two Orthodox Jewish men as they left Los Angeles synagogues earlier this week has been charged with federal hate crimes.
The separate shootings happened about 24 hours apart outside two synagogues in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.
During a news conference on Friday, United States Attorney Martin Estrada announced that the suspected gunman has been charged with federal hate crimes, which he said has no place in the community and will be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”
The first shooting took place just before 10 a.m. Wednesday on the 1400 block of Shenandoah Street. The second shooting happened around 8:30 a.m. Thursday on the 1600 block of South Bedford Street, roughly two blocks from the first location.
A suspect described as an Asian male with a mustache and goatee was taken into custody Thursday in Riverside County.
Estrada identified him as Jaime Tran, a 28-year-old man with ties to Riverside County.
Charging documents allege that Tran intentionally targeted the two men as they were leaving religious services in the predominantly Jewish community. Both men were dressed in traditional clothing that could likely identify them as Orthodox Jews, court documents state.
Officials said both shootings involved a man driving a 2012 Honda Civic who fired at the victims at close range with a handgun.
In a recorded interview with Tran, he allegedly told investigators that he sought out a “Kosher market” on the review site Yelp in order to find his targets, whom he identified as Jews based on their “head gear.”
The charging documents allege that Tran has a history of making antisemitic remarks, including emails he sent to former classmates last year in which he described Jews as “primitive” and blamed them for lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also reportedly sent threatening messages to Jewish former classmates in which he wished them death.
In one of the recovered text messages, Tran allegedly sent a text to a classmate that said “I want you dead, Jew.” Another reads: “Someone is going to kill you, Jew.”
The first shooting victim told investigators that he saw the Honda approach him as he left the religious service. As he turned his back to the vehicle while getting into his car, he said he heard a loud bang and felt sudden pain as he realized he had been shot in the back.
The second victim said he was walking across the street when he made eye contact with the suspect who had stopped his car beyond the crosswalk. As he crossed the street behind the suspect’s car, he heard three gunshots and discovered he had been shot in the upper arm.
In response to the shootings, authorities increased security and patrols in Jewish neighborhoods and at schools and places of worship.
Using witness statements and security footage from the scene, authorities positively identified the vehicle used in both shootings and were able to track the registration to Tran.
Tran was eventually tracked down to the Palm Springs area, the court documents state. Police in Cathedral City responded to reports of shots fired and said they found Tran with an AK-style firearm and a handgun near the wanted vehicle.
He was taken into custody and interviewed by detectives. During those interviews, officials say Tran took responsibility for both shootings — saying he targeted both men based on their traditional Jewish clothing.
Tran, who is homeless and had been living in his vehicle for more than a year, allegedly confessed to purchasing the firearms used in the crimes from a stranger in Arizona.
Investigators said that Tran’s admission about the shooting and the previous threats made to members of the Jewish community made the case strong enough to charge Tran with federal hate crimes.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, who says she grew up in the Pico-Robertson area, thanked authorities for working together to bring the suspected shooter into custody.
“My administration is resolute against hate, and we have made it a chief component of our public safety agenda,” Bass said. “I know that the LAPD and the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office share in that mission. And so today we’re not just here to stand in solidarity around this week’s shootings, we are here with locked arms against all forms of hate and bigotry and discrimination.”
Deputy Chief David Kowalski with the Los Angeles Police Department’s counterterrorism bureau said cooperation between law enforcement agencies likely “prevented additional persons, either here in Los Angeles or in neighboring cities from being hurt or killed,” although he did not say whether or not Tran had plans to attack additional civilians.
Representatives from the Anti-Defamation League decried the shootings and urged all Americans to stand up against the rise of antisemitic sentiment across the globe.
A rabbi from a local synagogue laid much of the blame on social media, calling for companies to do a better job moderating the content of their sites and urging users of TikTok and Twitter to report antisemitic posts when they see them.
“When you speak off the record to law enforcement, whether it’s in New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles, and you ask them what has changed in the last five years, they all say the same thing — social media,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Government will do its share, but we also need the social media giants to step up.”
Cooper added that, despite Tran’s arrest, Jewish families will be “looking over their shoulders” as they head to places of worship for Sabbath. But he urged local Jews to continue visiting their synagogues and churches, arguing it is important not to give “bigots, racists, antisemites and terrorists a victory.”
Both men wounded in the shootings survived and are expected to recover. Cooper said he was thankful to not be attending any funerals related to the shooting.
Estrada said the shootings highlighted the importance of community and looking out for one another.
“It is critically important, especially in an area as diverse as Los Angeles, with one of the largest Jewish populations in the country, that we celebrate diversity and celebrate our differences, that we appreciate the value and humanity that each of us has, and that we stand together to oppose hate,” Estrada said.
In addition to the federal hate crimes charges, Tran was also charged with two counts of attempted murder. Jail records indicate he’s currently being held on $2 million bail.
He was expected to make his first appearance in court Friday afternoon.
If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.