LOS ANGELES (CN) — A homeless man faces federal hate crime charges in two shootings of Jewish men as they left synagogues in LA's Pico-Robertson neighborhood this week. Both victims survived the attacks.
Jaime Tran, 28, who has a history of making antisemitic comments and threats, was arrested Thursday evening in the Palm Springs area, about 120 miles east of Los Angeles. He's accused of shooting one man Wednesday morning and another Thursday morning because, he told the FBI, he knew from their "head gear" that they were Jewish.
"This type of criminal conduct is completely unacceptable," U.S. Attorney E. Martin Estrada said at a press conference Friday announcing the charges. "Hate crimes have no place in our community. Antisemitism has no place in our community."
Tran could face life in prison if convicted, Estrada said, because he's accused of attempted murder. He was ordered jailed without bond at his initial court appearance Friday
According to the criminal complaint, Tran told FBI agents after his arrest that he had looked up a "kosher market" on Yelp and decided to shoot someone in the area of the market. The Pico-Robertson neighborhood in Los Angeles has a large Jewish population and has numerous kosher markets and restaurants as well as synagogues along Pico Boulevard.
Tran shot both victims from his car as they left religious services wearing black jackets and black hats. One was wounded in his lower back, the other in his arm. Police were able to identify Tran's Honda Civic after the second shooting and subsequently his mobile phone number. They used the number to locate him in the Palm Springs area where he was arrested.
Tran told the FBI that he was homeless and had been living in his car for the past 12-14 month. He admitted after his arrest that he shot both men. His handgun, which was used in the shooting, and an AK-style rifle that police found in his car and that he had fired in the Palm Springs area before his arrest, Tran said he had gotten in Arizona from someone he didn't know.
According to the criminal complaint, last year Tran repeatedly contacted a former classmate who is Jewish at a dental school from which Tran was expelled in 2018 and left threatening and antisemitic voicemails and texts.
In one text message to the former classmate, Tran wrote, "Burn in an oven chamber you bitch Jew," and included a picture of a gas chamber.
Investigators say late last year Tran also sent messages to other former classmates from the dental school blaming Jews for Covid-19 and pandemic measures such as lockdowns, masking and vaccination requirements.
A federal public defender assigned to represent Tran didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the charges.
“At a time of increased antisemitism, these acts have understandably set communities on edge," Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement Thursday. "Just last December, I stood blocks away from where these incidents occurred as we celebrated the first night of Hanukkah together. Now, my pledge to the Pico-Robertson community and to the city of Los Angeles as a whole, is that we will fight this hatred vigorously and work every day to defeat it."
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