When a heavy pipe bomb detonated in April, striking the Chabad House Lubavitch of Santa Monica before smashing a 2 ½-foot wide hole in the roof of a nearby residence above a sleeping child, emergency responders initially surmised the explosion was an accident.
Later, after uncovering evidence at the scence, including a receipt for 33 pounds of a demolition agent, authorities alleged that the bomb—a large steel pipe partially encased in concrete—was intentionally set by a 60-year-old man who had fled on a Greyhound bus.
As Santa Monica Police Chief Timothy Jackman recalled last week, it was the prodding of a local detective and the assistant fire marshal that the crime scene remained cordoned off for hours, giving investigators time to find the clues that would lead to the arrest of their suspect, .
"Their advocacy and determination was well justified," Jackman said during a medal ceremony Thursday in Santa Monica City Hall.
He awarded Detective Derek Leone and Assistant Fire Marshal Eric Binder and two sergeants, David Thomas and Robert Almada, commendations for their roles in investigating the pipe bomb explosion.
Jackman credited them with "around the clock... relentless, collaborative effort[s]" that "led to the quick identification and a nationwide manhunt" for Hirsch, who had escaped California under aliases almost immediately after the explosion.
Thomas was the first investigator to call Hirsch, according to court records. Hirsch's name was left behind on the receipt and on a mailing label affixed to a box of demolition agent found across the street from the Chabad House.
FBI agents tracked Hirsch to Denver, where he had traveled from Los Angeles en route to New York. But before he made it all the way to the East Coast, the Ohio Police Department called with a tip from a concerned citizen who had been in contact with a "suspicious" man matching Hirsch's description at a synagogue in Cleveland Heights.
"Detective Leone and federal agents immediately went to Ohio in an effort to interview the suspect and preserve any evidence," Jackman said.
"The other members of the task force worked locally to preserve evidence and to trace the suspect’s movements before and after the explosion. These efforts resulted in the successful filing of federal charges against the suspect."
Hirsch has pleaded not guilty to four federal felony counts.
His trial in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles was set to begin Aug. 30, but it was continued at the request of both federal prosecutors and Hirsch's attorney.