Felony charges filed in CA against blast suspect

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Los Angeles County prosecutors charged a man suspected of causing an explosion at a synagogue with four felony counts on Tuesday, after an FBI affidavit was filed in federal court saying a receipt for a large amount of chemicals had linked him to the crime.

The state felony counts against Ron Hirsch, 60, include possession of a destructive device near a public place and private residence, explosion with intent to murder, and use of a destructive device and explosive to injure or destroy. He faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office said.

Hirsch, who was arrested in Ohio, also was charged in federal court Tuesday with fleeing to avoid prosecution after the blast last week that shattered windows and punched a hole in the Santa Monica synagogue. The explosion also knocked a hole in the roof of a nearby house.

Authorities said a 12-year-old was sleeping almost underneath where the device landed in the house.

Authorities have not released a motive for the explosion. District Attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons declined to discuss the explosion with intent to murder charge, saying she couldn't discuss evidence in the case. Prosecutors are seeking Hirsch's extradition from Ohio.

"We evaluated evidence presented to use and felt those were the appropriate charges for this case," she said.

Jewish groups have said they did not believe anti-Semitism was necessarily behind the explosion.

Authorities initially believed the blast was a construction accident, but they later said the device was deliberately constructed. The FBI said the confusion came from the device's strange construction - explosives inside hundreds of pounds of concrete and poured into a trashcan.

The receipt for three 11-pound bags of demolition agent, a substance used to break up rocks and concrete, helped lead to Hirsch's arrest, after investigators found the his name and phone number on the receipt discovered in front of the house, according to an FBI affidavit.

Police arrested Hirsch late Monday at a Hebrew school in Cleveland Heights after a rabbi recognized him from news reports about the explosion near Chabad House Lubavitch in Santa Monica and alerted authorities.

Hirsch had ended up in the Cleveland suburb after authorities said he boarded a Greyhound bus hours after the blast. A warrant said he had purchased a bus ticket for New York, where he was believed to have had relatives.

Hirsch was known to spend time at synagogues and other Jewish community centers seeking charity, the FBI said.

People who live in the well-kept homes near where Hirsch was arrested said he went door-to-door on Monday seeking money, which is a common occurrence in the area. Jewish charity groups often make the rounds of the neighborhood requesting money, neighbors said.

Yaakov Bernstein, 32, said his 5-year-old son came to the front door Monday with a man who matched Hirsch's physical description. The man, who said he was visiting from Oregon, wanted to borrow a yarmulke, but Bernstein did not have one to lend him.

"Then I asked him in for a drink and he ignored me and walked away," Bernstein said.

Rabbi Sruly Wolf of Cleveland Heights said the man had asked another rabbi 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 advised the rabbi to call police, and he did.

When approached by police, Hirsch offered his actual name, birthdate and social security number and told officers that he had come to Cleveland Heights from California for kidney surgery.

Hirsch is scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cleveland said. Authorities did not say whether he had an attorney.

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.


Nguyen reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland and Jacob Adelman in Los Angeles also contributed to this report.


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