Images from incidents at the Schneerson Center (left) and Balboa Theater, possibly involving the same suspect.
Images from incidents at the Schneerson Center (left) and Balboa Theater, possibly involving the same suspect.

S.F. synagogue shooter remains at large as FBI joins investigation

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A white male suspect remained at large Friday after a frightening shooting in which nobody was hurt at a San Francisco Jewish gathering place Wednesday evening. The suspect fired between six and eight shots in a room where more than a dozen older adults were sitting and studying; he fired blanks, according to witnesses.

The San Francisco Police Department said in a press release it was investigating the incident — authorities are on the lookout for a middle-age man in his 40s or 50s. Police on Thursday linked the shooting to an earlier report of a man brandishing a gun at the nearby Balboa Theater; they said “the subject’s description is similar and is possibly the same individual.”

The FBI is also involved in the investigation, according to Rafael Brinner, who directs Jewish community security for the region’s Jewish Community Federation.

The Federation alerted the Bay Area Jewish community in a mass email Friday afternoon that the man remained at large, enclosing a blurry photograph and urging the Jewish community to be on the lookout as Shabbat nears.

The Federation provided the following description:

“He is a Caucasian male in his 40s or 50s, has a dark goatee, and wore an olive green ballcap and pants, a black jacket with white fleece lining, and black Adidas shoes with white stripes. We do not know his identity, mental state, or motives, but the SFPD and FBI have assured us they share our concerns and are pursuing the matter aggressively.”

“I felt it was important to get even a grainy picture of this guy out there,” Brinner told J. in an interview. “If he does any more stunts like Wednesday, people will be more alert.”

Brinner said he was advising the Schneerson Center, the one-room Jewish center serving Russian-speaking Jews where the incident occurred, about tips for optimizing security. He said Jewish community organizations are always balancing security needs with being welcoming and open, even to newcomers — a central value for Jewish religious leaders.

“It’s always a matter of, how do you greet people? How do you determine who should come in?” Brinner said, adding that “having a locked door ensures we don’t see what we saw Wednesday night,” when the man walked right through the unlocked front door.

The Schneerson Center, a synagogue serving mainly Russian-speaking Jews in San Francisco, was the site of an incident in which a man fired several blanks from a gun. (Photo/Google Maps)
The Schneerson Center, a synagogue serving mainly Russian-speaking Jews in San Francisco, was the site of an incident in which a man fired several blanks from a gun. (Photo/Google Maps)

While Schneerson Center community members, many of them seniors originally from the former Soviet Union, initially declined to contact police after the incident, the authorities were contacted the next day. Officers said they found spent casings littering the room Thursday morning, SFPD reported.

San Francisco police said the investigation remained “open and active.”  The department asked anyone with knowledge about the incident to contact SFPD at (415) 575-4444.

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins addressed the incident in a tweet. She, along with San Francisco Mayor London Breed, have stressed the need for the vigorous prosecution of hate crimes in a city beset in recent years by unprovoked attacks, especially against Asian seniors.

“This is shocking behavior and we must remain vigilant as a community to help look out for one another,” Jenkins wrote, sharing an article about the incident from the San Francisco Chronicle. Jenkins included the handles for the SFPD and the city’s FBI field office, urging anyone with information about the two firearm incidents to contact authorities.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.