Ron Hirsch, Santa Monica synagogue bomber, dies in custody

September 11, 2013

Ron Hirsch, a homeless man who was accused of setting off a bomb outside Chabad in Santa Monica, died on Aug. 24 while in federal custody. The cause of death was ischemic heart disease, various media reported.

Federal prosecutors have filed an order to dismiss the indictment of Hirsch in the wake of his death, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press.

He was being treated at a federal medical center in North Carolina at the time of his passing. He was 62.

Hirsch suffered from mental health problems that caused his trial to be postponed multiple times, Patch-Santa Monica reported. A court document co-signed by his attorney and the U.S. attorney’s office includes a request for his trial to be pushed from June 2012 to January 2013 and for a Sell hearing, which determines whether the government can force a defendant to take medication so that he will be mentally competent enough to stand trial.

Hirsch made national headlines in April 2011 after he was arrested on suspicion of setting off a pipe bomb outside Chabad of Santa Monica. Initially, authorities believed the explosion, which did not cause any deaths or injuries but blew a hole in the roof of a home adjacent to the shul and caused minor damage to the shul’s exterior, to be the result of an industrial accident.

He was linked to the crime after authorities discovered a sales receipt for bags of a demolition agent with his name on it near the scene of the incident.

Arresting Hirsch proved not to be so easy, though. Authorities caught up to the homeless transient four days after the blast, in Cleveland Heights, where he’d fled to, after a citizen there recognized him and notified the authorities. Because he left the city after the incident, he faced local and federal charges.

A federal grand jury indicted him on use of an explosive to damage property and three other charges. He stood to face up to 70 years in prison.

Hirsch pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

Despite Hirsch’s actions, Rabbi Isaac Levitansky, co-director of Chabad of Santa Monica, the intended target of the explosion, believed Hirsch had not meant to cause anybody harm, and he expressed sadness over the man’s death.

“Hopefully his soul is a better place now, not locked up in prison, but going to eternal resting place,” Levitansky said.

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