April 15, 2011
Man pegged as suspect in synagogue blast arrested
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio rabbi who became suspicious of a man asking for a place to stay led police to the arrest late Monday of the suspect in an explosion at a California synagogue.
The man is believed to be Ron Hirsch, 60, a transient known to spend time at synagogues and other Jewish community centers seeking charity, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller in Los Angeles. He was wanted on state charges of possession of a destructive device and unrelated local charges, and was arrested in suburban Cleveland Heights.
Investigators do not have a motive for the blast, and Jewish groups said they did not believe anti–Semitism was necessarily behind it.
The explosion Thursday near Chabad House Lubavitch of Santa Monica shattered windows and punched a hole in the synagogue, sending chunks of concrete and a heavy pipe crashing into the roof of a nearby house. Authorities said a child was sleeping almost underneath where the device landed.
Authorities initially believed the blast was an industrial accident, but they now say the device was deliberately constructed and items found at the scene were linked to Hirsch. The FBI said the confusion came from the device's strange construction — explosives inside hundreds of pounds of concrete and poured into a trashcan.
Investigators believe Hirsch boarded a New York–bound Greyhound bus after the blast. He is believed to have family in New York.
Surveillance cameras captured him getting off the bus in Denver on Friday evening, going to the ticket counter and then boarding another eastbound bus, FBI spokesman Dave Joly in Denver said.
On Monday night, Rabbi Sruly Wolf said another rabbi, who didn't want to be identified because he was apprehensive, called him and said he thought he recognized a visitor to the Agudath Israel graduate study program near a synagogue. The man had asked for a place to stay Sunday night and was put up in a hotel because he didn't provide appropriate identification to allow him to stay at a guest apartment, Wolf said Tuesday.
Wolf advised the rabbi to call police, and he did.
Neighbors near the site of the Santa Monica explosion described Hirsch as a quiet man who sometimes slept by the side of the synagogue. In Ohio, he seemed to go to a familiar locale for help.
"He felt comfortable enough to come into a community that offered him shelter and offered him money because the Orthodox community is very hospitable and takes care of its own," Wolf said.
Gerry Elliot of Cleveland Heights said he saw Hirsch taken into custody at a study hall for a Hebrew school.
Elliot said Hirsch was wearing a blue jacket and jeans, unlike most of the people who come to study who dress in suits.
"His clothes were rather unconventional. He looked like he came from the beach," Elliot said. "He just looked like an innocent old soul."
Associated Press (News - Alert) writer Judith Kohler and Colleen Slevin in Denver and Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland contributed to this report.