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April 12, 2011

Santa Monica Chabad suspect charged for fleeing police

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community/article/suspect_arrested_in_connection_with_explosion_near_santa_monica_chabad_cent

[UPDATED at 10 p.m.]
Ron Hirsch, who is suspected of setting off an explosion outside a Chabad, was taken into federal custody today.

Hirsch has been charged by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office with “various explosive-related offenses, including ‘explosion with intent to murder,’” Reuters reported. He has also been charged with the federal crime for his “flight to avoid prosecution for damaging or destroying any building.”

Hirsch is scheduled to appear in a hearing on Wednesday in Cleveland that will determine if he will remain in federal custody or if he can be released on bail.

The explosion, which took place last Thursday, was deliberately set off outside the Chabad in Santa Monica. There were no deaths or injuries. Hirsch was arrested by local police in Cleveland on Monday, four days after he fled Los Angeles by bus, and he was taken into federal custody today.

As on Tuesday night, federal authorities didn’t know at what point Hirsch would be extradited to Los Angeles and if that would be brought up during the hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

The explosive device set off last Thursday involved unusual materials, according to law enforcement officials, and the federal charge filed with the U.S. District Court provides insight into the complexity of the device:

On-scene investigation revealed that [it was] an improvised projectile, consisting of a large steel pipe partially encased in concrete, weighing approximately 250 pounds…[it] originated in a plastic trash can that was found on a small overgrown walkway located on the north side of the Chabad House. The trashcan contained cement approximately one foot in depth.

Near the explosion site, law enforcement officials found evidence that linked Hirsch, who is 60-years-old and been described as a homeless transient, to the blast. A receipt was found, for the purchase of three bags of demolition agent, with Hirsch’s name on it, along with a shipping address for a Santa Monica Blvd. location and a phone number. The purchase was from Constar Supply in Clovis, CA.

Federal authorities don’t know Hirsch had the know-how to construct the explosive device.

It’s “clearly among the questions that investigators have,” said FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller.

As of Tuesday night, those investigating the blast didn’t know the motive behind it.

After arresting Hirsch, officials weren’t certain that who they arrested was Hirsch, but after fingerprinting him, they confirmed it was Hirsch who they’d detained.

On the day of the explosion, Hirsch fled Los Angeles by Greyhound bus. He changed buses in Denver before continuing for Ohio and sought shelter within an Orthodox community in a Cleveland but was recognized by a rabbi and reported to local police.

[UPDATED at 3:20 p.m.]
Ron Hirsch, the suspect behind the Chabad explosion, has been charged for the “unlawful flight to avoid prosecution for damaging or destroying any building,” said a joint statement released today by the FBI, the Santa Monica Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The charge was filed in Los Angeles today with the U.S. District Court.

Authorities believe that the attack, which took place last Thursday, was deliberate, but a motive for the attack is still not known, according to the statement.

A court appearance with Hirsch is currently scheduled for this Wednesday, according to the statement, which added that Hirsch is expected to be “removed to Los Angeles.” He is currently in the custody of the Cleveland Heights Police Department, after fleeing Los Angeles on a bus the day of the blast.

[UPDATED at 2:56 p.m.]
Local authorities named homeless man Ron Hirsch as the suspect behind last week’s Chabad explosion after finding a receipt, at the scene of the blast, that pointed to Hirsch, the Los Angeles Times has reported.

The receipt was for “three 11-pound bags of a ‘demolition agent’ purchased in Clovis, Calif., on April 1 [and] the package was sent to suspect Ron Hirsch, 60, at a Santa Monica address,” according to the Times story.

Since last Friday, when local officials released the identity of Hirsch, there have been few details as to how they linked the materials used in the explosion - which sent a 300-pound metal pipe flying into a house next-door to the Chabad in Santa Monica - to Hirsch, who was arrested on Monday in Cleveland.

[UPDATED at 2:23 p.m.]
Ron Hirsch will face federal charges for “fleeing to avoid prosectuion,” AP has reported.

Local authorities have said that Hirsch, the man believed responsible for the recent explosion that took place outside the Chabad in Santa Monica, fleed Los Angeles by bus last Thursday, the day the blast occured.

[UPDATED on Tuesday, April 12 at 12:30 p.m.]:
The Anti-Defamation League and others responded to the arrest of Hirsch.

The suspect in an explosion outside the Santa Monica Chabad House was arrested in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb, after he was recognized while praying in a local synagogue.

Ron Hirsch, also known as Israel Fisher, was arrested Monday night in a Cleveland Heights synagogue and Jewish center by the FBI and local police shortly after evening prayers as he sat studying from a Jewish text.

As of this morning, Hirsch was in the custody of the Cleveland Heights Police Department, said Special Agent Scott Wilson of the FBI in Cleveland.

Hirsch had visited the synagogue on Sunday night, where he prayed and then asked the rabbi for food and a place to stay. The rabbi bought him dinner and put him up at a local hotel instead of offering to let him stay at the local Hebrew shelter, since Hirsch was not able to produce the proper credentials to be allowed to stay there.

The next day, the rabbi saw Hirsch’s photo on a Jewish website.

“I saw the facial features, although he shaved off part of his beard,” the unidentified rabbi told ABC News. “First thing I did was call my local rabbi to see if I could report him. He said, ‘If he is a danger to society, you have to report him.’ I called the FBI in Santa Monica. They asked me to call the Cleveland Heights police. They came to synagogue, and he was sitting right in the back.”

FBI agents from Los Angeles, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Santa Monica Police Department have come to Cleveland to work with the FBI’s Cleveland branch and the Cleveland Heights Police Department on the investigation, Wilson said.

The explosion last Thursday morning sent a 300-pound metal pipe and concrete 25 feet in the air, which then came crashing through the roof of a house adjacent to Chabad in S. Monica on 17th Street near Broadway. Immediately after the incident, the media initially reported that the blast was caused by a pipe bomb. But by afternoon — after several streets near the blast site were evacuated — police said that it was not a bomb, but rather an industrial incident caused by hazardous construction materials. The explosion was labeled an accident.

Late Friday, however, investigators said evidence had been found at the scene that linked Hirsch, 60, to the explosion. “The device appeared to have been deliberately constructed,” Santa Monica police Sgt. Jay Trisler said.

Officials released a description and photo of Hirsch, calling him “extremely dangerous.” Synagogues were put on alert.

The Levitanskys, the family that presides over the Chabad synagogue in Santa Monica, described Hirsch as a homeless man with possible mental issues.

Sara Levitansky, wife of the synagogue’s rabbi, said Hirsch is “basically a homeless, transient guy who frequents different Jewish synagogues [including the Chabad in S. Monica] and asks for handouts.”

Rabbi Eli Levitansky, who leads services at the synagogue with his brother, Rabbi Isaac Levitansky, said that Hirsch has come to the Chabad over the years and has slept on the street outside the synagogue.

“I knew him as somebody that came by for some charity … on a regular basis,” he said. “He’s known to not be very stable.”

Eli Levitansky said that he and other Chabad congregants only knew Hirsch by one of his aliases, Israel Fischer, and that they didn’t realize it was the same person until they were shown a picture of him.

“It’s surprising that he would do something like this, though not shocking,” he said.
Eli Levitansky said Hirsch had come to Chabad in S. Monica as far back as 10 years ago, but that he had not come in recent years. He said Hirsch, whom he believes is Jewish, had even prayed at the synagogue.

“There’s definitely concern and people are wary, but it’s not going to affect the day-to-day activities,” Eli Levitansky said.

Santa Monica and Los Angeles police stepped up patrols of Westside synagogues and Jewish organizations over the weekend. On Saturday night, an LAPD officer told a reporter that the suspect had been taken into custody, but Santa Monica police later said Hirsch was still at large.

On Monday, authorities said that Hirsch had purchased a ticket for a Greyhound bus bound for New York under the alias J. Fisher on the day of the explosion. Hirsch was originally believed to have gotten off the bus in Denver.

Following the report that Hirsch had left the city, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement alerting Jewish groups nationwide that Hirsch was on the move.

Amanda Susskind, regional director of ADL’s Pacific Southwest Division, said that the ADL will continue working with law officials to collect information about Hirsch and the explosion.

“We’re helping them, and they’re helping us,” Susskind said. “They have been very vigilant with this and contacted us the minute it occurred and are aware of the implications in the Jewish community.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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