April 11, 2011 — -- A man suspected of using a never-before-seen launcher to fire a projectile at a California synagogue was nabbed by the FBI in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, after he apparently sought shelter at, of all places, a Jewish center, officials said.
"A fellow in our community spotted him in the schul on Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights," said Rabbi Sruly Wolf. "The rabbi who spotted him called the Cleveland Heights police, who immediately responded and called the FBI."
According to the person who spotted Hirsch, the suspect in the California synagogue attack came into the Ohio schul Sunday night and asked another rabbi for a place to stay.
However, Hirsch would not provide the rabbis with the kind of information they required before they would give him a bed in their community center.
"Basically, I took him to get him dinner," said a rabbi involved in the apprehension, who asked not to be identified by name. "I kept on asking him questions. Things did not seem right. We decided to put him up in a local motel.
"Today, I happened to be on the Jewish website 'Vos Iz Neias,'" the rabbi added. "I saw the facial features, although he shaved off part of his beard. First thing I did was call my local rabbi to see if I could report him. He said, 'If he is a danger to society, you have to report him.' I called the FBI in Santa Monica. They asked me to call the Cleveland Heights police. They came to synagogue, and he was sitting right in the back."
It was not immediately clear how he got to Cleveland Heights, but the FBI's Los Angeles office confirmed the arrest.
"The individual in custody was arrested following a call to law enforcement by a concerned citizen who had come into contact with man believed to be Hirsch," the FBI office said in a written statement. "This is a continuing investigation and additional details will be provided as they are developed."
Hirsh boarded a New York-bound Greyhound bus after the attack, but was shown on surveillance video getting off the bus in Denver, police said.
Police accused Hirsch of hurling 300 pounds of pipe and concrete into the roof of a building adjacent to the Chabad House and less than a block from the Santa Monica Synagogue.
Investigators confirmed that a man known as J. Fisher, a known alias used by Hirsch, purchased the bus ticket. He was originally scheduled to arrive in New York on Sunday, investigators said.
Police along the bus' route were alerted. The bus makes 10 scheduled stops between California and New York.
The New York City Police Department circulated information, including Hirsch's photograph, among members of the city's Jewish community to alert them about the suspect, according to Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne.
Hirsch, who is believed to have family in New York, is a transient known in Los Angeles for towing a trailer full of possessions behind a bicycle, police sources said.
The 60-year-old man frequented area synagogues and Jewish community centers seeking handouts, law enforcement officials said.
The projectile appeared to have been fired from an alley, bounced off the center's wall and crashed through the roof. The bang shattered windows, punctured a hole in the synagogue and sent the 300-pound metal pipe into a neighbor's house where a young boy was sleeping. The incident took place shortly before prayer services at the Chabad House Thursday morning and triggered the evacuation of about 100 people from a four block radius.
Even as the investigation and manhunt were underway, officials faced a groundswell of concern across the Jewish community, where early speculation included al Qaeda-inspired terror as a motive.
Instead, officials believe, Hirsch, a transient with an alias and a grudge that may be seated in a personal relationship at one religious institution was the one officials believe triggered a Friday afternoon security alert by the Anti-Defamation League to synagogues and other Jewish organizations in the Los Angeles area.
Suspect 'Known to Frequent Synagogues... Seeking Charity'
Hirsch also is known as Israel Fisher, according to information released by police. He constructed the projectile device using elements including concrete, explosive powder, dry ice and what appears to be an expansion joint sealant, or other expanding plastic or foam.
The oddly constructed mechanical launcher appears to have been highly effective at hurling its material, although it did not seriously damage the Chabad House which appears to have been its target.
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According to the Santa Monica Police Department, Hirsch, a heavyset white male was being sought on state charges of possession of a destructive device and unrelated local charges. He was "known to frequent synagogues and Jewish community centers seeking charity from patrons," one police official said. He was known to stay in motels from time to time for a night at a time.
ABC News' Howard Price contributed to this report.