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Shooter in West LA hate crimes against Jewish men faces up to 40 years in prison

Investigators at the scene of a shooting of a Jewish man in West Los Angeles, which federal prosecutors later said was a hate crime. 

A man who shot and wounded two Jewish men in West Los Angeles pleaded guilty Monday to federal hate crime charges and faces up to 40 years in prison.

Jaime Tran, 29, admitted in a plea deal to opening fire on the two men as they left religious services in the Pico-Robertson district on two separate occasions, shooting the first victim in the back on Feb. 15 and targeting the second victim the following day, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California. Both victims were wearing yarmulkes at the time and the plea agreement signed by Tran states he told investigators he chose the men based on their "head gear."  

Tran also admitted in the plea deal that he searched online for "kosher markets" before the crimes.

"These horrific acts – motivated by poisonous, antisemitic beliefs – shocked our community," U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement announcing the plea agreement last month.

In the first shooting, Tran shot a man wearing a black jacket and a yarmulke in the back as he walked to his car parked about a block away from a synagogue he had just visited, near the 1400 block of Shenandoah Street. He was inside a gray Honda Civic when he slowly pulled up to the victim and opened fire.

The next day, Tran shot another Jewish man wearing a yarmulke as the victim left a synagogue near the 1600 block of South Bedford Street. The victim was left with a gunshot wound to his bicep. He later said he heard three loud shots before noticing his right arm was bleeding. 

The two shootings were just a few blocks away from each other.

In the following days, the Los Angeles Police Department said it would have more officers patrol the area including ones mounted on horseback. 

Rabbi JJ Duchman, director of Experiential Learning at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, said at the time that he and other members of the local Jewish community would carry on with their usual routines and not let the violent hate crimes intimidate them. The school is about a mile from the area of the shootings. 

"Hate and evil will always be here, and it's our job to bring light into the world — every little bit of light dispels darkness," Duchman said. "The reality is, if we stop our routine — stop our day-to-day — then we're giving in to the hate and the evil."

"If we close our synagogue, if we hide our kippahs, if we try to disguise who we are, then what are we doing?" Duchman asked. "We're really giving into this age-old antisemitism."

After the second shooting, LAPD traced Tran's phone to the Palm Springs area. Later that day, Cathedral City police got a call about a man armed with a gun. The officers later told FBI agents they found Tran standing next to his Honda Civic, which had an AK-style rifle and a .380-caliber handgun on the front seat of the driver's side. 

Investigators believe those were the firearms used in the shootings.

Police arrested Tran on Feb. 17, 2023 and he has been in custody since. 

Less than two weeks after Tran's arrest, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the FBI had been tracking him at the time of the crimes. 

Tran had a history of harassing his former classmates at UCLA's dental school, according to federal prosecutors. 

He left the school in 2018 after "making hate-filled statements about other students whom he perceived to be Jewish," according to the court filings. At one point, he repeatedly called and texted a former classmate antisemitic statements and insults, and in another instance, he emailed two dozen former classmates a flyer with antisemitic propaganda. 

At the time, Moore said law enforcement was looking into how Tran managed to get firearms given mental health struggles he had.

"How he came into the possession of that rifle as well as the handgun, given his mental health condition, is the subject of our continued investigation," Moore said. 

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