Hunt continues for assailant who fired blank rounds in San Francisco synagogue

Police in San Francisco said they’re prioritizing calls to places of worship Friday as they continue hunting for a man who fired suspected blank rounds inside a Richmond District synagogue earlier in the week.

The incident happened around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Schneerson Center at Balboa Street and 26th Avenue.

A man entered the primarily Russian-speaking synagogue following a prayer service and pulled out a pistol. He then let off several rounds as the people inside sat stunned.

The FBI and the San Francisco Police Department are searching for the man as they work to piece together a motive for the attack.

"Right now there is absolutely no motive that we can speculate on," said Officer Robert Rueca, a SFPD spokesman. "The police department is prioritizing calls for service to all places of worship. We are working with the community in addressing any safety concerns."

Members of the group had initially invited the man to sit down after noticing he was a fellow Russian speaker. Officials with the synagogue told KTVU the man mentioned the Mossad and the Israeli Secret Service agency, and they believe the attack was antisemitic.

"The people are in so much shock, half of them don’t realize what’s happening, they hear noises, a few of them duck, they didn’t get out of their seats, before it was over," said Rabbi Alon Chanukov, vice president of the Schneerson Center.

Authorities say the suspect matches the description of a man who brandished a firearm at a nearby theater one day earlier.

A senior Rabbi at the Schneerson told KTVU he got a call Friday from Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who offered her condolences and support.

The incident has raised alarms with the local Jewish community.

"Houses of worship have to be truly sanctuaries," said Rabbi Jonathan Singer, with the nearby Congregation Emanu-El.

He says the episode is a sad reminder of recent mass shootings in California, and other attacks on places of worship.

"It’s getting closer and closer to all of us -- this violence," he said. "It used to be something you read about in the paper happening somewhere else. It’s happening right here -- right here in beautiful San Francisco."

Police and FBI are hoping they can identify the assailant to bring some peace back to the tight-knit community.

"We are not leaving any stone unturned," Rueca said. "We’re looking to speak with witnesses were looking to speak with any community member."

Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky