The suspect who pulled a gun from his coat and fired several rounds inside a San Francisco synagogue had loaded his weapon with blanks, police say.
At approximately 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 51-year-old Dmitri Mishin reportedly entered the Schneerson Center in the Richmond District of San Francisco, California. The Schneerson Center is a small synagogue where local Jews, most of whom are elderly and speak only Russian, gather to worship.
That evening, a table full of people were there for their regular Wednesday class when Mishin allegedly interrupted them. Witnesses said that Mishin initially put them at ease by speaking in Russian but then cryptically stated that he had "something" to show them. They said he then drew a handgun from inside his coat, shouted something about Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and fired several rounds.
"You don’t take a gun, make sure to have bullets that are blanks, go to a Russian-speaking synagogue during a celebration weekly class on a Wednesday and shoot it up and say something about Mossad just by coincidence," said Rabbi Alon Chanukov, who characterized the shooting as a hate crime.
Chanukov, the vice president of the Schneerson Center who was not in attendance when the incident occurred, added that the suspect "looked like he had malice in his eyes," according to witnesses.
Surveillance footage shows the suspect enter the synagogue, draw a handgun, and fire several rounds, but the people sitting at a nearby table hardly react. In fact, the only person who flinches is an elderly gentleman on the phone who approaches the suspect and appears to usher him calmly back outside.
"People didn’t even leave their chairs," said synagogue attendee Matthew Finkelstein, who added that everyone there was likely "paralyzed with fear." Finkelstein also insisted that no one at the center that evening recognized the shooter.
Police eventually recovered several shell casings at the scene and determined that they were blanks. There are no reported injuries stemming from the incident, and the property was not damaged.
Still, some members of the synagogue remain fearful. "I still have trauma," admitted Rabbi Bentzion Pil. "It’s hard to sleep because I’m worried a lot about the community."
Social media accounts supposedly linked to Mishin suggest he may harbor some anti-Semitic sentiments. "Terrorism doesn’t have to have killings," Chanukov claimed. "In my mind, what he did was he came and he did a terrorist attack. He came to terrorize people."
Despite those concerns, Mishin has not been charged with a hate crime. He has been arrested and charged with several counts, including disturbing a religious meeting, drawing or exhibiting an imitation firearm, and an unspecified felony.
Mishin is also suspected in a similar incident which occurred at a nearby location the day before. On Tuesday, a man entered the Balboa Theatre, brandished a firearm, and then fled. Police stated that evidence recovered at Mishin's residence links him to both crimes.
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