LOS ANGELES — A 69-year-old Jewish man died Monday after falling and striking his head following a confrontation the previous day during competing pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations in suburban Los Angeles, authorities said.
Paul Kessler’s death was being investigated as a homicide and authorities haven’t ruled out the possibility a hate crime occurred, said a statement from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. No arrests had been made.
Kessler was injured shortly before 3:30 p.m. Sunday during competing demonstrations in Thousand Oaks, a city of about 125,000 northwest of Los Angeles. Police received reports that a battery had occurred and deputies sent to the scene found Kessler suffering from a head wound, the department said.
“Witness accounts indicated that Kessler was involved in a physical altercation with counter-protestor(s). During the altercation, Kessler fell backwards and struck his head on the ground,” the department said.
An autopsy conducted Monday determined Kessler died from a blunt force head injury and it was homicide, the department said.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said Kessler was Jewish and that he was struck in the head by a megaphone held by a pro-Palestinian demonstrator. The sheriff’s department didn’t immediately confirm those details but planned a news conference Tuesday morning.
Rabbi Michael Barclay of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, near Thousand Oaks, urged people to avoid jumping to conclusions about what happened.
“I just got off the phone with the Chief of Police,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter. “They have conflicting reports of what happened, and they did interview the suspect that is identified in social media at the event. They have no video.”
He said police are being cautious before making accusations. “We need to do the same; and not let this become a spark that starts an inferno,” he wrote.
Since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out last month protests have been held around the world. Hamas militants have been condemned for invading Israel and killing and kidnaping civilians while Israel has been accused of indiscriminate bombing that has killed many civilians in Gaza.
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