An elderly Jewish man was killed in a fight that broke out amid opposing pro-Israel and pro-Palestine demonstrations in Southern California.
Paul Kessler, 69, died from a head injury, according to an autopsy report.
Witnesses described a “physical altercation” that ended with Kessler hitting his head on the ground, cutting it open, the Ventura County sheriff’s office said.
“What exactly transpired prior to Mr. Kessler falling backward isn’t crystal clear right now,” Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said Tuesday at a press conference.
No video of the reported brawl has been discovered. Witnesses gave conflicting statements about the events that led up to Kessler’s fall, Fryhoff said.
A suspect was identified and interviewed by cops at the scene. The suspect told investigators he was involved in an altercation with Kessler, according to the sheriff. Police have not publicly identified the suspect, though Fryhoff said he was involved in the pro-Palestine protest.
The dueling rallies occurred Sunday in the north Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks. Kessler was hospitalized that day and died from his injuries early Monday morning.
Following Kessler’s death, cops obtained a search warrant for the suspect’s home in Moorpark, about seven miles north of Thousands Oaks, Fryhoff said. Cops detained the suspect for about two hours while they searched the residence, then released him. The sheriff did not reveal the results of the search.
Social media videos showed Kessler at the pro-Israel rally carrying an Israeli flag. A photograph captured Kessler’s head resting on a bloody homemade sign, and video showed him lying on the sidewalk with his head covered in blood.
Ventura County cops are investigating Kessler’s death as a possible hate crime.
“This investigation is ongoing and fluid,” Fryhoff said. “I want to express my deepest condolences to the family of the victim who lost his life during this unfortunate event.”