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Police search for gunman in North Hollywood synagogue shooting [Updated]

October 29, 2009 | 10:03 am

A gunman entered the grounds of  a North Hollywood synagogue this morning and shot and wounded two men who were going to a prayer service in an attack LAPD detectives are investigating as a hate crime.

ThumbFinal The unidentified gunman wearing a black hoodie walked into the underground parking garage of Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic synagogue at 12405 Sylvan St. shortly before 6:20 a.m., said LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore. He approached a man in his 40s who was parking his car to attend prayer service.

"Without any words," Moore said, the suspect shot the man in the leg. He then fired at a second man in his 40s who had also arrived for prayers. The second victim was also wounded in the leg. The gunman then fled from the garage. Witnesses called 911.

Moore said both victims were in good condition at local hospitals.

Detectives are "working with [the victims] to understand more information," Moore said. They do not believe the motive was robbery, according to LAPD sources, who spoke to The Times on the condition they not be named because the investigation is ongoing.

[Updated at 10:20 a.m.: Speaking to reporters outside the taped-off synagogue, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the incident "a senseless act of violence." The mayor was careful to temper worries that the shooting was a hate crime.

"None of us should presume or speculate more about this other than it was a random act of violence."]

Los Angeles police arrested a man about an hour later near the synagogue, but sources said they do not believe he was the gunman. LAPD officials have alerted other synagogues around Los Angeles about the shooting, and police have stepped up patrols at Jewish religious institutions.

Adat Yeshurun is in the heart of the San Fernando Valley's Orthodox Jewish community and within walking distance of kosher markets and other synagogues. Many people move to the area so they could walk to temple.

The sources said detectives are trying to determine the motive, and whether the gunman acted alone or as part of a larger group.  LAPD detectives were reviewing security videotapes from the temple in hopes of better understanding the chain of events.

They were also searching a nearby park to see if the suspect is hiding there.

Yehuda Oz, 53, a man of Tunisian descent, has attended the Sephardic Jewish temple for the last 15 years. He arrived early this morning to begin his regular morning prayers. [Updated at 10:10 a.m.: In a previous version of this post, Oz had declined to give his last name.]

About an hour later, as he prayed with some 15 others in the temple's quiet sanctuary, four gunshots broke the silence, he said.

He said he heard screams from the parking lot, then saw two men stumble into the temple.

Their blood spread over the floor as people rushed to stop the bleeding, Yehuda said, but no one inside saw the shooter.

"Maybe it was crazy person. Maybe he was drugged up. Maybe it was a Jew. We don't know," Yehuda said, nervously adjusting his yarmulke as he stood outside the taped-off scene with two friends.

Yehuda said the two men who were shot were latecomers who had just parked their cars.

The temple, which has a congregation of mostly Moroccan and other North African Jews, installed security cameras years ago to discourage attacks, Yehuda said.

"This is a good place," he said.

[Updated at 10:20 a.m.:  A girls' school at the synagogue with 112 students canceled classes today.  At least two rabbis from neighboring synagogues who were at the scene this morning said they were counseling their own congregants to stay calm.

“The feeling is that we’ve got to keep our eyes open for each other,” said Rabbi Nachman Nabend, from Chabad of North Hollywood. “It makes me angry when anyone gets targeted.”

Adat Ari El, the fourth largest conservative synagogue in L.A. with a 750-family congregation, is about two miles away from Adat Yeshurun. Joanne Klein, executive director at Adat Ari El, said there are more LAPD patrol cars in the area and her synagogue is ramping upt its own security by closing multiple entrances and adding additional security guards.

“We’re watchful,” said Klein. “We’re taking extra precautions and we’re paying attention to what’s going on in the community. We’re still open for business.”]

-- Duke Helfand, Anna Gorman, Andrew Blankstein and Robert Faturechi in North Hollywood; and Richard Winton