The Jewish community in the West Valley and surrounding areas was rocked Feb. 5 by the murder of William and Bertha Lasky, former members of Temple Solael. The elderly couple died in their West Hills home from cuts and stab wounds, victims of an unknown intruder.
According to Detective David Lambkin of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), firefighters responded to a call from a monitored fire alarm system in the house and found the bodies in the master bedroom and several areas of the house set ablaze. The time of the couple's death and other details of the crime have not been released, and autopsy results have been sealed pending further investigation. Lambkin said that police have established that Bertha went shopping on Sunday and that family members had been in contact with her in the early afternoon.
Lambkin said the motive for the killings is still unknown.
"We have no evidence at this point that it was a follow-home [murder]," the detective said. "They didn't drive a Lexus or Mercedes like you expect to find in a follow-home, but we have not ruled it out. Right now, without any witnesses we're processing the forensic evidence and following up on anyone connected with the family who might be able to identify a suspect."
The Lasky family declined to speak to The Journal, but sources at Temple Solael confirmed the couple had been early members of the congregation. According to reports in the Los Angeles Times and Daily News, William, 76, a retired cable company executive, and Bertha, 73, a docent at the Getty Center Museum, were longtime residents of the area and had just returned from a cruise.
Although the Laskys' murder was unusual for their quiet West Valley neighborhood, more than 7,000 people were victims of violent crime in the Valley just in the past year, according to the LAPD. Counseling victims of violent crime is crucial to recovery, said Sally Weber, director of Jewish community programs for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS).
"Research shows that people who participate in crisis counseling within the first six months of a trauma fare much better than people who don't," Weber said.
Weber said a number of JFS staff workers have been trained to do crisis intervention for both natural disasters and human-generated trauma and have handled cases from the shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Centers to bank robbery victims. Counselors meet with victims as well as families and co-workers in order to help them process their reactions and return to a normal degree of function.
"There are a very normal set of reactions to trauma that, while people are experiencing them, can make you feel pretty crazy," Weber said. "Common reactions include a profound sense that the world is completely out of control and that there is nothing you can do to protect yourself or your loved ones; flashbacks, which can be very intense, and a fear of being out in similar places or exposed to similar dangers. It can also affect relationships with family members and friends who did not experience the crime. People are often very supportive in the beginning, but then they don't understand why [the victim's reaction] is going on so long. That's why outside help is so important."
Weber said counseling is especially critical for crime victims who have experienced other crimes in the past, for example survivors of the Holocaust.
"The problem with trauma is it rips the scab off previous traumas," she said.
In addition to the JFS, Weber said she often refers crime victims to Compassionate Friends, a support group for the families of those who have lost a child, or the Victim-Witness Assistance Program, a division of the Los Angeles City Attorney's office that provides comprehensive services to victims and witnesses of crime, including counseling referrals and help for victims to collect court-ordered restitution from perpetrators.
For many Jewish families, who tend to live in more affluent areas of the Valley, crimes like the Lasky murder are so rare that safety is taken for granted. Lambkin warns that this can be a serious mistake.
"It's unfortunate, but at this point we're telling people to be cautious of any strange vehicles or persons in neighborhood," Lambkin said. "Do not open the door for anyone unless you know who they are. Also, be aware of who is around you when you are out and about. I know it's hard in this day and age because people are so preoccupied or talking on their cell phones, but you really need to be observant."
Police are asking anyone with information about the murder of William and Bertha Lasky to contact Detective David Lambkin or Detective Tim Marcia at (213) 485-2921.
If you or anyone you know has been the victim of crime and needs help, please contact one of the following agencies:
Jewish Family Services (323) 761-8800
Victim-Witness Assistance Program of the L.A. City Attorney (213) 485-6976
Compassionate Friends (877) 969-0010