Police investigates new bomb threat to La Jolla’s Jewish Community Center; Suspect arrested in connection to previous threats

The Lawrence Family Jewish Community Ceter (JCC) in La Jolla received a fourth bomb threat on Wednesday, March 8, as the San Diego Police Department confirmed. No evacuations resulted of the threat, which was determined “not credible.”

Juan Thompson, a 31-year-old former reporter, was arrested March 3 in St. Louis (Missouri) on cyberstalking charges connected to the surge of anti-Semitic threats across the country, including to the Lawrence Family Jewish JCC in La Jolla. According to a statement by Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office, the suspect cyberstalked a particular woman “by, among other things, communicating threats to JCCs in her name.”

The statement alleges that Thompson recently made eight threats to Jewish community organizations. According the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), since the start of 2017, more than 90 bomb threats have been called into Jewish institutions, including three to the Lawrence Family JCC (4126 Executive Drive) on Jan. 31, Feb. 21 and Feb. 27. The investigation into the rest of the threats remains open, with authorities stating they don’t believe the suspect is behind all of them.

The case against Thompson is based on a complaint deposed by Southern District of New York FBI Special Agent Christopher Mills that details an e-mail the subject allegedly sent to “the JCC in San Diego” accusing the woman subject to his harassment of hating Jewish people and putting “a bomb in the center at (the San Diego JCC’s address) to kill as many Jews ASAP.” The report alleges the e-mail was sent 10:38 p.m. Feb. 20, just hours before the evacuation of Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla.

“After the threat was received, our staff practiced protocol and immediately safely evacuated the building and the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) arrived at the premises,” said Lawrence Family JCC director Michael Cohen in a statement on Feb. 21.

In a different statement, issued March 3 after Thompson’s arrest was made public, Cohen added, “We are grateful to the authorities for their efforts and hope that very soon they will find the source/s of all the threats and are able to close the case.”

SDPD media services officer Billy Hernandez confirmed to La Jolla Light that Northern Division detectives are investigating the incidents. Asked if more incidents were expected in the coming weeks or months, he replied, “It’s hard to say. We always have to be prepared for any situation.”

For Lawrence Family JCC director Cohen, the institution is “uniquely prepared” to offer a safe environment for those who seek a healthy lifestyle and use its facilities.

La Jollan David Ballinger, a member of the Lawrence Family JCC who regularly swims at its aquatic center, told the Light he wasn’t afraid of using the facilities. “I feel fine, they’ve got security there, I think they’re on top of things very well in terms of who can go through the door,” he explained, adding that there is an armed guard stationed at the building’s entrance.

As a JCC, Lawrence Family is part of the Secure Community Network, an affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America that monitors, advises and supports the safety and security of Jewish institutions. Cohen stated, “In response to these recent threats across the country, we have been working closely with our local police department and national security agencies to monitor the situation and review our protocols.”

San Diego City Council member Barbara Bry (District 1), who is an active member of the local Jewish community, said “I am deeply dismayed by the rash of bomb threats that have occurred across the nation, and I am especially concerned about the threats made to our local JCC over the past few weeks.” Bry added that after the third bomb threat Feb. 27, she dispatched a member of her staff to check on those who were evacuated to La Jolla Country Day School.

Bry, who attended an ADL security briefing at the Lawrence JCC where community members met San Diego security forces leaders to talk about the recent incidents on March 5, plans to convene a group of leaders in the Jewish community for a meeting to discuss anti-Semitism and “the ways we can work together to combat it.” The date and agenda for this meeting has not been announced.

SDPD agents recommend to always take threats seriously. “We never know what is on the minds of the individuals making threats,” wrote Officer Hernandez. “Be vigilant and always be aware of your surroundings. If you see anything that is suspicious, report it to the authorities.”