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Long Beach police look at BB gun attacks as possible hate crimes

Long Beach police are looking for a suspect accused of shooting a BB gun in two incidents this weekend — including at young men studying at a Yeshiva.

Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney said Sunday afternoon that the police department, which had already stepped up patrols at all places of worship in the city following the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, is investigating whether the Yeshiva students were targeted because of their faith. 

In an attack believed to be committed by the same suspect, three young women who are not Jewish were also fired at in the same section of the city, near the boardwalk, with what police believe was a BB gun. Tangney said investigators are canvassing the area for video surveillance that might help police crack the case. 

“We don’t rule out anything in the early stages, but based on the fact that the three women from Saturday morning in no way could be identified as being from the Jewish faith, and the fact that all the incidents took place in the same small section of the city, leads us to think it was a person exercising bad judgment and targeting anyone that was outside," Tangney said. "But we still continue to investigate the possibility of a hate crime.”

In the most recent incidents, three young men – all Yeshiva students – were targeted in a four-minute span beginning at about 10 p.m. Saturday night.

The first victim was walking on Magnolia Boulevard when he heard popping sounds and "felt his hat get struck," said Tangney. 

The second victim was walking on Riverside Boulevard at the intersection of Beech Street and was struck by a pellet in the ankle, said Tangney, adding that there was "no injury other than a sensation of pain."

The third victim was shot at also while walking on Riverside at Beech, but not struck, Tangney said. 

All three young men told police they saw the shots coming from a dark-colored SUV. 

Chumi Diamond, vice president of the Long Beach City Council, said word of the incidents spread quickly in the community already "on edge" following the Oct. 27 shooting massacre of 11 worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

"The use of a BB gun anywhere near houses of worship or near Yeshiva students, makes everybody a little bit nervous," said Diamond, who is an Orthodox Jew and said the Yeshiva students' religion would have been apparent to passerby, noting they wear distinctive clothing, including black hats.

Diamond said she spoke to a rabbi from the Yeshiva and the young men are all "fine." 

A Yeshiva representative did not respond to a message seeking comment.

In the first incident, police got a call at about 12:07 a.m. Saturday, reporting that three young women were walking on a boardwalk ramp at Magnolia and Broadway when one of the women felt "a sharp pain" on her back and another felt pain in her ankle. 

They looked towards Broadway and heard popping sounds and saw a dark-colored SUV, Tangney said. As they approached the top of the boardwalk, Tangney said, the SUV "made a u-turn and was coming back towards them." 

The women, ranging in age from 17 to 20, "ran and hid behind a building and the SUV drove away," Tangney said. They called 911 and refused medical attention.

"We believe it was just kids exercising extremely poor judgment," Tangney said. 

With Ted Phillips

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