LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A 28-year-old man suspected of shooting two Jewish men after they left synagogues in the Pico-Robertson district less than 24 hours apart was charged Friday with two federal hate crime counts that could put him behind bars for life.
Jaime Tran, previously of Riverside, was charged with committing hate crime acts in connection with the shootings, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Friday.
The complaint alleges that Tran targeted the two victims because they were Jewish or he believed them to be Jewish. Because the complaint contains allegations that Tran attempted to murder the two victims, the maximum possible penalty for each of the two hate crimes is life without parole in federal prison.
"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," said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada. "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."
Tran appeared in Los Angeles federal court Friday afternoon and was ordered to remain jailed without bail. Magistrate Judge Margo A. Rocconi scheduled his arraignment for March 9.
The defendant was "motived by antisemitism," Estrada said at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles. "Hate crimes have no place in our community."
In a Mirandized, recorded interview, Tran acknowledged having intentionally shot the two victims, according to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant.
Tran allegedly told agents that he searched for a "kosher" market on the social media application Yelp. After locating a kosher market, Tran drove to the market and selected his victims because of their "head gear," he said, according to the affidavit.
Based on the description of his vehicle, the suspect was traced to Riverside County. He was arrested Thursday evening when Cathedral City police responded to a report of a man who had fired a gun and was carrying a weapon near his car, according to the affidavit.
Detectives recovered several items of evidence -- including an AK- style rifle and a .380-caliber handgun consistent with the weapon believed to have been used in the shooting, according to the affidavit.
The LAPD announced before the arrest it was "re-allocating police resources to provide a highly visible and preventative presence in the area."
"In an abundance of caution, there will continue to be an increased police presence and patrols around Jewish places of worship and surrounding neighborhoods through the weekend," the department announced following the arrest.
The first shooting occurred around 9:55 a.m. Wednesday in the 1400 block of Shenandoah Street, near Pico Boulevard, between Robertson and La Cienega boulevards. A man in his 40s was shot in the lower back while walking to his vehicle.
The second occurred at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the 1600 block of South Bedford Street, two blocks south of Pico Boulevard and one block east of Shenandoah Street. The man was shot in the arm.
Both victims survived.
At the time of this week's shootings, Tran was free on $30,000 bond on a felony charge of possessing a weapon on school grounds -- for allegedly carrying a gun on the campus of Cal State Long Beach in July 2022. He is due back in Los Angeles Superior Court in that case on Feb. 28.
The District Attorney's Office stated that at the time the case was filed, Tran had no prior criminal history and the office "was not made aware of any allegations of threats against the Jewish community."
Mayor Karen Bass said Thursday that "antisemitism and hate crimes have no place in our city or our country"
"Those who engage in either will be caught and held fully accountable," Bass said. "At a time of increased antisemitism, 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. 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."
According to the affidavit, Tran -- a former dental student -- has a history of harassing people he suspected of being Jewish.
At the end of November, he allegedly emailed dozens of former classmates at the dental school, calling the COVID-19 pandemic part of a Jewish conspiracy. He included a flier in the email listing various government officials and the word "Jewish" written next to the name of every official, according to the affidavit.
About a month later, Tran allegedly again emailed former classmates, describing Jewish people as "primitive" and encouraging his classmates to blame any "inconvenience" or lost revenue from the COVID-19 lockdowns on the "Iranian Jew," according to the document.
Between August and November, he allegedly repeatedly texted a former classmate antisemitic and threatening messages, including: "Someone is going to kill you, Jew" and "I want you dead, Jew," the affidavit stated.
The Holocaust Museum LA issued a statement Friday calling the shootings "further painful reminders of the stubborn survival of antisemitism, and it's growing ugly stain in our community."
"It threatens Jewish life throughout this country and any haven we consider safe," according to the museum statement. "No place on Earth is immune to the scourge of hate. We commend the quick and steadfast support of the LAPD and our local leaders. Holocaust Museum LA will continue to work with all in our community to spread our beacon of truth, education, forbearance and dedication in seeking to root out hatred in all its ugly forms."
Robert J. Williams, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, blasted the suspect's alleged insinuation that Jews were to blame for COVID-19 as "historic antisemitic trope." He said in a statement the claim "is just the latest version of the same lie. These events remind us why it's so important to combat disinformation."