[UPDATED] Break-in at Temple Israel of Hollywood causes evacuation
[UPDATED at 9:09 p.m.]:
The Los Angeles Fire Department has released four surveillance videos of an unidentified arson suspect breaking into Temple Israel of Hollywood early Thursday morning. In one of the videos, the suspect is wearing flip-flops as he trespasses on the synagogue property. Watch below.
LAFD released the videos of the suspect, who is still at large, to its YouTube channel.
Early on Thursday morning, April 14, in what Los Angeles Fire Deparment officials are calling an arson attempt, someone broke into Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) and set a small fire in a classroom on the second floor. The fire was extinguished before LAFD arrived at the scene, at 8 a.m. Police removed evidence from the scene in a brown paper bag, but would not disclose the contents. There were no reported injuries, and a Los Angeles Police Department official on the scene described the damage to the synagogue as minimal.
The suspect, who is still at large, has been described as a skinny white male between 27 and 30 years old, 5’ 11’’, 180 lbs., with brown hair and a close-cropped beard. He was still on the scene at 7:30 a.m. when members of synagogue staff spotted him, at which point he fled on foot.
Law enforcement officers believe the suspect may be a transient and are looking for him around the Hollywood area. An image of the suspect taken from the synagogue’s surveillance camera footage has been circulated to aid the search.
LAPD detectives were the first to arrive on the scene, followed by the department’s bomb squad, who did a precautionary sweep of the building. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene on Thursday.
Rumors were circulated of a suspicious package having been found, but law enforcement found no immediate evidence of any threat to public safety on the premises, according to LAPD spokesman Bruce Borihanh.
LAFD spokesman Jaime Moore told reporters on Thursday that LAFD was not considering the incident a terrorist attack. Also speaking to reporters at the synagogue, Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge called it a “hate crime.” TIOH is located in LaBonge’s district.
Parents were contacted by the school at 9 a.m. and assured that their children were safe. Students, who were on the school campus but had been prevented by LAPD officers from entering the school building, were evacuated from the building and spent between two and four hours waiting with teachers and staff in the parking lot. The nursery school was not in session, because of an all-school student program with invited guests that was to have taken place and was cancelled due to the incident.
In an email sent out late Thursday morning, TIOH Executive Director Bill Shpall informed congregants that the building had been closed and evacuated temporarily to allow LAPD and the Los Angeles Fire Department to investigate.
Because of the break-in and subsequent investigation, the annual Intergenerational Day program, scheduled for Thursday morning, was canceled.
Jennifer Shneiderman, whose son Jacob is in the fourth grade, said she ignored a request to parents not to come to the school. Despite nobody having been harmed, Shneiderman likened the incident to “one of those nightmare scenes, where you go to pick up your kid.”
She also said she was sad to see the morning program canceled. “It was a terrible thing, because these kids have been practicing for this event for four months, and someone breaks in,” Shneiderman said. “It’s just a terrible thing.”
In his email to congregants, Shpall said that an evening performance of the school program would take place as scheduled.
The incident is the second in a week to involve criminal activity related to a local synagogue. On April 7, a bomb went off near the Chabad of Santa Monica, hitting the roof of an adjacent residence. Ron Hirsch, 60, was arrested Monday in Ohio in connection with that explosion.