UPDATE (DEC. 20): Man arrested in connection with L.A. synagogue bomb threats
DEC. 18: Police responded to multiple bomb threats targeting the Koreatown home of Wilshire Boulevard Temple (WBT) and a police squad car parked adjacent to the campus on Dec. 18, disrupting life for much of the workday at one of Los Angeles’ largest synagogues and its surrounding neighborhood.
No evidence was found of any explosives following an investigation that included a visit from the bomb squad, robotic devices and the BatCat, a large forklift-like device formally called the Bomb Assault Tactical Control Assessment Tool. At press time on Tuesday, a suspect was in police custody, according to a statement sent by WBT to congregants. However police said the man in custody was not the primary suspect in the squad car threats.
The car “was rendered safe. No device was found in or around the vehicle,” said police spokesman Sgt. Rudy Lopez. “The investigation is ongoing.”
The first threatening call, which according to police was from a male voice and made from a public phone, was received by police at about 2 a.m. It indicated that there was an explosive device on the synagogue’s grounds, but an initial search failed to turn up anything suspicious, Lopez said.
About six hours later, two more calls self-reported that a device had been planted in a police vehicle nearby, which authorities identified on Harvard Boulevard north of Wilshire Boulevard. The car had been sitting there for several days as part of an effort in which vehicles are planted in areas to deter crime, Lopez said.
WBT, which is undergoing renovations, and its adjacent school and parking lot take up an entire block between Wilshire Boulevard and Sixth Street and Harvard and Hobart boulevards.
Wilshire Boulevard Temple was being investigated following several bomb threats on Dec. 18. Photo by Lynn Pelkey
No one was in the building during the police investigation, according to a statement WBT released in the late morning, while police efforts were still under way.
Cory Wenter, the congregation’s director of safety and security, explained that following the 2 a.m. call, the temple used its mass notification system to cancel all activities. WBT has a nursery school, elementary school and a charter school, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, operating at the campus, totaling about 600 students in all, he said.
As for the temple’s West L.A. campus at Olympic Boulevard and Barrington Avenue, Wenter said life continued as normal.
“We have escalated threat levels, so we have more people on-site, but we’re still running,” he said.
In the Koreatown neighborhood surrounding WBT, however, things were far from normal for much of the day. Police cordoned off the streets around the building with yellow tape, and helicopters circled overhead. Some residents were evacuated from nearby apartments, and others were asked to stay put, Lopez said.
Enforcement agents spent hours assessing the squad car situation as traffic snarled through surrounding streets. While canine units searched the area for secondary threats, a robotic unit offered a better view of the car itself.
After the robot found nothing — a loud crack of breaking glass could be heard when it gained access to the interior of the vehicle for better visual access — the squad car was lifted into the air by the BatCat, providing a look at its undercarriage.
Next, bomb technicians inspected areas that couldn’t be seen by the robot, including the engine and trunk. No explosives were found, and streets were reopened about 2 p.m.
As for the motive behind the threats, Lopez said it seems unlikely to be related to the recent shootings in Newtown, Conn.
“At this point, we have no reason to believe it’s connected to the events in Connecticut,” he said. The arrest “was based largely on video footage supplied by our security team from the temple’s surveillance cameras,” the WBT e-mail said.
Jewish Journal staff writer Ryan Torok contributed to this article.