A homeless man with a history of espousing paranoid, antisemitic views has been charged with hate crimes in connection to two separate shootings targeting Jewish men outside of synagogues in Pico-Robertson in less than 24 hours this week, Mayor Karen Bass announced Friday at a joint press conference with federal prosecutors and officials from the Los Angeles Police Department.
Authorities identified the suspect as Jamie Tran, 28, a onetime Riverdale dental student they say was expelled for harassing people he believed were Jewish, and who has been living in his car for the last 12 to 14 months. Tran allegedly looked up “kosher” on Yelp the morning of Wednesday, February 15 before prowling the L.A. neighborhood of Pico-Robertson in his gray Honda Civic armed with a .380 caliber handgun and an “AR-style rifle” in search of anyone wearing what he called “head gear.”
Around 9:30 a.m., prosecutors say, Tran shot a man leaving a Shenandoah Street synagogue, choosing the victim because he “was dressed in a manner that visibly identified his Jewish faith, specifically, a black jacket and a head covering.”
The victim was about to enter his car when he noticed the Honda approach. He turned to look and “heard a loud bang and felt sudden pain on the right side of his back,” according to the federal complaint. Realizing he had been shot, he watched as the alleged gunman sped off. Witnesses told the LAPD they had seen the car moving slowly through the neighborhood earlier that morning.
At around 8 a.m. on Thursday, Tran allegedly shot a second victim leaving a South Bedford Street synagogue roughly a block away from the site of the first attack, targeting him because he was also “dressed in clothing that visibly identified his Jewish faith, again a black jacket and a head covering.”
The LAPD quickly mobilized a task force to identify the shooter, said Deputy Chief David Kowalski of the department’s counterterrorism division, pulling CCTV footage from the area. By then, a patrol officer who had responded to the second shooting spotted a man who matched a description of the attacker and snapped a photo of the car—which helped identify Tran as the registered owner of the vehicle.
Investigators tracked Tran’s cell phone location to the Palm Springs area that afternoon and were headed to arrest him just as Cathedral City police got 911 calls about a man with a gun near a Honda Civic. Federal agents, Riverside County deputies and other law enforcement raced to the scene and arrested Tran.
“The complaint alleges that Tran, motivated by hate, targeted two victims because they were Jewish or he believed them to be Jewish. The complaint contains allegations that Tran attempted to murder the two victims. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment,” said Martin Estrada, the U.S. Attorney for California’s Central District.
According to prosecutors, Tran was alarmingly candid about his motive during interviews with investigators, telling them he got the guns from “someone he did not know” in Arizona and admitting that he sent an expletive-filled, antisemitic rant late last year to a former dental school classmate using religious slurs and declaring in all caps: “I HATE YOU LIKE [expletive] CRAZY YOU STUPID LOSER SUBHUMAN TRASH UGLY DISGUSTING WORTHLESS SENSELESS JEW.” The missive was accompanied by death threats, prosecutors say.
The classmate told investigators he recognized Tran as his harasser. Tran’s rhetoric aimed at Jewish students had gotten him expelled from dental school in 2018, according to the federal complaint. He was still taunting former classmates late last year, prosecutors claim, stating that on November 25, 2022, Tran emailed dozens of them, stating, “That Persian/Iranian Jew of the Class of 2020 made up a fake, bs disease (COVID) and based it on the anesthesia incident that I had.”
Tran’s arrest highlights an alarming uptick in antisemitic attacks in Los Angeles, which Deputy Chief Kowalski said makes up 75 percent of all reported hate crime in the city. Mayor Bass said that the LAPD will continue to have an increased presence in areas with a largely Jewish population.
“Our Jewish community was terrorized and that terror was felt all across Los Angeles. One shooting and then the second, and perhaps even scarier, not knowing what would happen next,” she stated, adding, “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.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles released a statement to express gratitude that Tran, a suspect with a “history of animus towards the Jewish community,” was charged with federal civil rights violations.
Tran was ordered jailed without bond by U.S. Magistrate Judge Margo A. Rocconi. His arraignment is scheduled for March 9 at the Roybal Federal Building in Downtown L.A. He could face up to life in prison.
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