LOS ANGELES, California -- A suspect was in custody Thursday in the separate shootings of two Jewish men who were leaving synagogues in the Pico-Robertson section of Los Angeles, police said.
The LAPD says the suspect, who has not been identified publicly, was arrested Thursday evening in Riverside County and evidence was seized that included a rifle and handgun.
Although police initially said there was no evidence to confirm the shootings were motivated by hate, they say the circumstances led them to pursue the investigation as a hate crime.
The two men were shot on consecutive days in similar circumstances - while leaving synagogues on Pico Boulevard. The attacks left the Jewish community on edge.
One shooting happened Wednesday morning in the 1400 block of Shenandoah Street. A Jewish man in his 40s wearing a yarmulke was walking to his car when someone shot him and then drove away, police say.
The other happened Thursday morning a block away at the intersection of Pickford and Bedford streets. A Jewish man in his 70s was shot at by a suspect from inside a vehicle.
In both cases, the men had left synagogues on Pico Boulevard before they were shot. Both victims are expected to survive.
"They didn't stop them to get their wallet, there was no struggle, the guy just came out of the bushes, shot my friend and ran away," said resident Vivian Eisenstadt. "What other reasoning could you have?"
Police initially had different descriptions of the suspects in the two shootings but late Thursday they said they believe it was the same individual. The suspected gunman is described only as a man with a mustache and goatee driving a possible white compact vehicle.
Residents of the Jewish community said they believe the men were targeted for their religion.
"There's no way this is a coincidence," said local resident Shiva Mehrannia. "In a very Jewish neighborhood, both men leaving synagogues, possibly with a kippah on their head. I mean, you do the math. I think it's pretty clear."
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles released a statement discussing the suspect that said in part:
"We have also learned that the suspect has a history of animus towards the Jewish community and these incidents will be treated as hate crimes."
The shootings have residents worried for their own safety.
"I usually take walks on Shabbat on Saturdays," said Yael Mehrannia. "It's the whole community - we walk to synagogue, we walk to our friends' houses. This week I'm telling my family I think we should stay home."
The LAPD says it is contact with local religious and community leaders and is providing a more visible police presence in the area. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said it is also providing more patrols around synagogues and Jewish centers.
Anyone with information about the shootings is asked to call LAPD at 1-877-LAPD-24-7 or provide anonymous tips to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.