By Edwin Folven, 12/20/2012
Squad car, temple targeted in Tuesday morning incident
The streets around the Wilshire Boulevard Temple were closed for several hours Tuesday as police responded to three threats in which the caller stated that there was a bomb planted either at the temple or on nearby streets.
Capt. Tina Nieto, commanding officer for the Los Angeles Police Department’s Olympic Division, said no explosive devices were found, but the LAPD’s Bomb Squad was called in to conduct an extensive search of the area. The calls were reportedly made to the LAPD’s Communications Division.
In one call, the threat was directed at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, located at 3663 Wilshire Blvd. In later calls, the suspect appeared to be targeting an LAPD patrol car that had been parked on Harvard Boulevard — which runs along the east side of the temple — for the past several weeks as a crime deterrent. The captain said police traced one of the calls to a Koreatown spa, where they arrested Wan Ryung Song, 46, a naturalized citizen who had immigrated to the United States at age 6 from South Korea. Nieto described him as having mental health issues, and said the suspect lives in the area and had recently been kicked out by his mother. He had been staying at the spa, which Nieto said offers overnight rooms for travelers and others.
“We take it very seriously,” Nieto said. “We had that patrol car parked there because of the construction going on at the temple, to deter thefts and vandalism. One of the calls specifically mentioned the patrol car, and we observed some evidence that the patrol car had been tampered with.”
The initial bomb threat came in around 2 a.m., and the caller allegedly targeted the temple. Officers responded to the location and conducted an extensive search of the synagogue and the surrounding area, but found no evidence of any suspicious packages. Around 8 a.m., two additional threatening calls were received. In one, the caller stated that there was a bomb planted in or around the patrol car, which was parked on Harvard Boulevard between Wilshire Boulevard and 6th Street. Authorities closed Harvard and Wilshire boulevards, as well as 6th Street and some other streets near the temple. Several nearby apartment buildings and businesses were evacuated while the bomb squad investigated the threats.
Police deployed a robot to check the patrol car, particularly under the hood and inside the trunk. A specialized forklift known as the BatCat (Bomb Assault Tactical Control Assessment Tool) was also used to raise the patrol car to check the undercarriage. The bomb squad determined that no explosives were present, and the streets were reopened around 2 p.m.
The subsequent investigation revealed that Song allegedly committed a previously reported hate crime against the Wilshire Boulevard Temple on Dec. 6 in which a Swastika and anti-Semitic rant were scrawled on a wall. He has been charged with four counts of making a bomb threat — with the allegation they were hate crimes — and one count of vandalism at a house of worship. Bail was set at $170,000.
The Wilshire Boulevard Temple was evacuated during the incident and was closed throughout the day Tuesday. The temple re-opened on Wednesday, and they released a statement regarding the bomb threats.
“We are pleased to have a successful resolution and will re-open a safe and secure campus for all of our programs,” according to Rabbi Steve Leder. “We are grateful to the temple’s terrific internal security team, and to the LAPD and other law enforcement agencies who responded so quickly and thoroughly.”
The statement indicated that the temple’s security team provided police with surveillance camera footage that helped identify the suspect in custody. Nieto said additional patrols are routinely conducted in the area because of potential threats against the temple, and because it is a neighborhood with a lot of vehicle and foot traffic.
“We have dedicated units in the area all the time — anywhere you have high density and a heavy pedestrian element,” she said.