A 69-year-old Jewish man died Monday from injuries he suffered during a weekend altercation in Southern California over the war between Israel and Hamas, and authorities said they were investigating the incident as a homicide and a possible hate crime.
The dispute occurred Sunday afternoon amid dueling protests at an intersection in Thousand Oaks, Calif., a suburb about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, authorities said. Deputies from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call about a physical altercation at the protest site, where supporters of Israel and Palestine were present, according to the agency.
There, they found Paul Kessler suffering from a head injury when he fell backwards and hit his head on the ground. Mr. Kessler, a Thousand Oaks resident, was taken to the hospital, where he died a day later. The Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Mr. Kessler died from blunt force head trauma, the sheriff’s office said.
Witnesses told investigators that Mr. Kessler got into a physical altercation with at least one counterprotester, authorities said.
Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff has scheduled a news conference Tuesday morning in Thousand Oaks.
News of Mr. Kessler’s downfall quickly ricocheted through already struggling communities. On Monday evening, several mourners brought flowers and lit candles on a ledge outside a Shell gas station near the scene of the altercation.
Rabbi Michael Barclay, of the nearby Ner Simcha Temple, said Monday evening that he had urged worshipers not to share rumors and had previously discouraged community members from counter-protesting during pro-Palestinian demonstrations to avoid clashes.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations office in Los Angeles, denounced any violence and urged people to avoid “sensationalizing such a tragedy for political purposes or spreading rumors that could unnecessarily intensify tensions that are already at their peak.” Record time.
“We urge everyone to wait until the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office completes its investigation before drawing any conclusions,” Ayloush said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the family and the Jewish community during this difficult time. »
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles highlighted recent cases of anti-Semitic crimes in the area, which have shaken Jewish residents of Southern California.
“The fact is there is now a Jew who is dead,” said Rabbi Noah Farkas, president and CEO of the federation. “And here we are again as a Jewish community, afraid, terrified to express ourselves, to be ourselves. »
Shawn Hubler And Livia Albeck-Ripka reports contributed.