Jews in West L.A. are resolute, on edge after gunman targets Jewish community in 2 shootings
Stephane Sultan, who owns a kosher restaurant on Pico Boulevard, knew his neighbors and customers were on edge because they kept confiding the same message.
They were carrying guns.
Sultan said they were arming themselves after the shooting Wednesday of a man leaving a synagogue in Pico-Robertson.
“We have to protect ourselves,” Sultan said.
On Thursday morning, he was standing outside his restaurant, Trattoria Natalie, when he heard three pops. After watching police en route to the scene a few blocks away, he learned that another Jewish man had been shot after leaving worship services.
“Of course they were scared yesterday,” said Sultan, who is Jewish and emigrated from France. “Everybody at the restaurant, at the market was talking about it.”
Although both men who were shot survived their wounds, the violence has left the Jewish community on edge.
The arrest Thursday evening of a suspect confirmed fears that the attacks were targeted. Jaime Tran — who authorities say has a history of making antisemitic statements, often specifically about Persian Jews — was taken into custody in connection with the shootings.
Tran, 28, was charged Friday with federal hate crimes. He admitted to police that he searched for a kosher market on Yelp before the shootings, according to a complaint unsealed in federal court in Los Angeles. If convicted, he faces life without parole in federal prison, prosecutors said.
Jaime Tran has a history of making antisemitic statements and is suspected of shooting two Jewish men in recent days, a criminal complaint said.
The first shooting occurred around 9:45 a.m. Wednesday near Shenandoah and Cashio streets. A man in his 40s was shot in the back while walking to his vehicle, authorities said.
The second attack was around 8 a.m. Thursday near Pickford and South Bedford streets — about a block away. A man was shot in the arm while walking home. Both shootings were at close range, according to the federal charges.
Both men who were shot had just left religious services and were wearing black jackets and kippa head coverings that “visibly identified” their Jewish faith, according to the complaint.
Witnesses and the victims told police they saw the shooter driving a gray Honda Civic.
A Los Angeles Police Department officer who responded to the scene of Thursday’s shooting saw an Asian man driving a Honda Civic, according to the complaint. She took a photo of the car, reviewed surveillance footage from the shootings and determined that the car and driver were the same ones she saw in person, court documents show. Police tracked the car’s license plate and determined that Tran was the registered owner.
Officers on Thursday used his cellphone location to track him to Palm Springs; he was arrested by local police in adjacent Cathedral City after a report of a man firing a gun near a Honda Civic, according to the complaint.
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When interviewed by police, Tran admitted that he had decided to shoot someone near the kosher market he had looked up on Yelp and knew his victims were Jewish because of their “head gear,” the complaint alleges. He asked police whether the victims were dead, according to federal prosecutors.
Tran told police he had been living in his car for more than a year and obtained the guns from someone in Arizona.
Tran was expelled from dental school in 2018 and in 2022 sent antisemitic messages to former classmates, the complaint shows. A federal law enforcement source said Tran had attended UCLA dental school.
He was caught July 3 carrying a loaded handgun onto the Cal State Long Beach campus, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Police got a call about a man with a gun near the engineering school and approached him. Tran surrendered and told officers he was carrying the weapon for protection, according to prosecutors. That case, for which he was out on bail, remains open.
At his initial court appearance Friday, a federal judge ordered him held without bail in connection with the Pico-Robertson shootings.
“Over the past two days, our community experienced two horrific acts we believe were motivated by antisemitic ideology that caused him to target the Jewish community,” U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said in announcing the charges against Tran. “It is important, especially in one of the most diverse areas in the world, that we celebrate our differences and stand together to oppose acts of hate.”
Despite the shootings, the bustling thoroughfare of Pico Boulevard was crowded Friday, with shoppers stocking up ahead of the Sabbath and worshipers going to and from morning prayers. The street has dozens of synagogues, religious schools and kosher restaurants and supermarkets.
Orthodox families fill the area’s dingbat apartments, duplexes and bungalows, and thousands jam the sidewalks Saturday mornings on their way to Torah services.
Los Angeles County is home to the largest Iranian Jewish diaspora outside of Israel, many of whom live in Pico-Robertson or go there to shop or worship. Just steps from where the second victim was shot are a kosher kebab restaurant, a Persian synagogue and a kosher supermarket with aisles of Iranian specialty items such as nan-e nokhodchi cookies, Sadaf tea and saffron rock sugar.
But the community’s visibility has left many fearing they could become targets again.
“I didn’t go to synagogue yesterday because I didn’t know what might happen,” said Jonathan Hassid, 23, who normally attends Adas Torah on Pico Boulevard. “A lot of people are questioning whether to go to shul for Shabbos.”
Others said they hoped their children or elderly parents would stay home.
“I’m always worried; every night, I’m waiting for my son to come home,” said Shira Arabshahi, 46, as she loaded groceries into her car outside Elat Market, a bustling kosher store in the heart of the neighborhood. “My 17-year-old daughter is working at the synagogue, babysitting. I’m afraid, but I don’t want to make them worry.”
Police cars, Magen Am security guards and LAPD officers on horseback patrolled the neighborhood Friday morning — a show of force far beyond even the stepped-up patrols that followed antisemitic mass shootings such as the Tree of Life massacre in 2018 in Pittsburgh.
“I’ve seen more police just walking from our home today than in the last 30 years combined,” said Amy Raff.
There was a slight spirit of defiance in the air.
“I am not afraid. I do three years army,” said Sultan, the restaurant owner.
“It’s always concerning when there’s antisemitic [violence], but we have faith that [God] is going to protect us,” said Jethro Da Silva, 55, as he left Ohel Moshe, a Persian synagogue.
Though he worries for his 8-year-old daughter, said Joseph Haber, “I kiss my mezuzah” — a practice many Jews have upon entering or leaving a building — “and go home.”
“As a minority, we come here with pride, to live with pride,” said Haber, 55. “For someone to come and take that pride away, it’s unjustifiable.”
Others met the news of the shootings with weary cynicism.
“I honestly thought it would happen sooner,” said Devorah Esakhan, 28. “I’m not going to change anything. We can’t show we’re scared.”
Expressions of antisemitism have grown louder in recent years. Researchers say that rising U.S. antisemitism is increasingly translating into workplace discrimination.
Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky, whose district includes Pico-Robertson, said Thursday the shootings coincide with “a rise in antisemitic attacks in recent months.”
LAPD statistics for 2022 show a 24% increase in anti-Jewish hate crimes compared with 2021. There were 89 victims in 2022 and 72 in 2021, statistics show.
Ariella Loewenstein, deputy regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the group’s annual antisemitic incident audit shows that 2021 saw the greatest increase ever. In California from 2020 to 2021, there was an increase in incidents of 27%. In the region that covers L.A., Kern, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, the group has found a 40% increase in the last five years.
In a statement Friday, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass said the community could rest a little easier with an arrest in the case.
“Still,” she said, “antisemitism and terror are tragically on the rise across our city and across our nation. My administration is resolute against hate, and we have made it a chief component of our public safety agenda.”
Despite the arrest and assurances, residents say they may never feel completely at ease.
“Ultimately, there’s always a danger toward the Jewish community,” said Zev Amster, 47, adding that he won’t let his children walk alone this weekend.
Times staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.
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