Bomb Threat To Irvine Jewish Center Comes Amid Increase In Orange County Hate Crimes

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — An investigation continued Tuesday into a bomb threat that forced the evacuation of about 1,000 people from a Jewish community center in Irvine, and authorities worked to determine if it was connected to a wave of threats made against Jewish centers and schools across the country.

Staff at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County began evacuating the facility, as well as Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, which is located on the same property, at about 4:40 p.m. Monday. No one was hurt.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department bomb-sniffing dogs were called in to perform a search of the location and nothing suspicious was found, Kim Mohr of the Irvine Police Department said.

“There have been reports today of threats called in to Jewish community centers and schools across the country,” Mohr said. “It is unclear at this time whether the threat in Irvine is tied to any other such threat.”

About 20 threats were made on Monday to Jewish institutions across the country, according to the Anti-Defamation League. About 90 bomb threats have been made since the beginning of the year, and a number of Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized.

Rusty Kennedy, chief executive of the OC Human Relations Commission, said the rash of bigoted incidents that has erupted in Orange County since the presidential election was the most since the six weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The commission has documented 44 “hate incidents” and 15 actual hate crimes since Donald Trump was elected president in November, Kennedy said.

“There’s everything from elementary school kids taunting their custodian, who is Latino, with a chant, `Build a wall,’ to a Muslim woman who had a man come up from behind her and yank her hijab off and punch her,” Kennedy said.

Another incident involved white athletes smashing a watermelon on the porch of a black student in Laguna Beach and referring to him by a racist epithet, Kennedy said. Vandals painted swastikas on a Korean church in Buena Park as well, Kennedy said.

The “bulk” of the incidents have targeted Latinos and Muslims, Kennedy said.

The presidential election’s result has apparently “given a sense of license, emboldened people to say horrible nasty things about each other and attack and criticize others based on their perceived nationality or immigrant status or religion or any other aspect about them,” Kennedy said.

The commission has been actively documenting the incidents and working to “counter the stereotypes” with “alternative stories” about good citizens of varying backgrounds, Kennedy said.

Anyone with information about Monday’s threat in Irvine was asked to call Irvine police Detective Michael Moore at (949) 724-7316.

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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