A 69-year-old Jewish man died on Monday after falling and hitting his head during an argument with pro-Palestinian protesters north of Los Angeles, according to police.
Paul Kessler died from injuries he sustained during Sunday demonstrations in the Ventura County suburb of Thousand Oaks. Police said they are investigating his death as a possible hate crime, according to a reports published Tuesday.
Kessler, who was at the demonstrations to show his support for Israel became embroiled in an argument with pro-Palestinian protesters at 3:20 p.m.
The argument soon escalated into a “scuffle” and after he fell, died from a head injury according to family friends and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
A Ventura County autopsy performed Monday reportedly determined Kessler died from a homicide, with the medical examiner labeling and the cause of death as blunt force head injury, police said.
The Los Angeles Times cited police sources who told the Southern California newspaper that Kessler was struck in the head before he was pushed and fell to the ground.
According to a statement released by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Kessler was struck violently with a megaphone.
That assertion was not confirmed by police sources thus far.
Moshe Bryski, a local rabbi from Chabad of the Valley located in Agoura Hills who spoke to the New York Post told the Empire State scribe described Kessler’s death as, “just a tragedy.”
The NYC paper also said Kessler’s wife was “in a state of total shock” when he called her Tuesday morning, as he faced off toe to toe with pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
“You don’t expect people to go to a rally and not come home,” Bryski told the Post.
One Kessler family friend, Justin Cohen, told The New York Post Monday Kessler attended two rallies since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel.
Cohen, a 38-year-old civil litigation lawyer, said he was “shocked and devastated” by the tragic incident. “I’ve never known him to have a modicum of violence in him in his entire life,” Cohen said about the 69-year old man.
“He was not a closet Zionist. He wore it like a badge of honor. He was a proud Jew and proud Israel supporter.”
No arrests were announced in Monday’s press release from the sheriff’s office.
According to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, the department will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. California time Tuesday at which time more information could be released.
Local Rabbi Michael Barclay told The Post that one man allegedly involved in the incident was already interviewed by police, and that investigators were hunting down video taken by witnesses.
Ventura County Supervisor Jeff Gorell said in a statement he was “heartbroken” over the death.
“I’m heartbroken to hear of the tragic death of an elderly man today after having been struck at a protest in my district,” he tweeted on the social media platform previously known as Twitter.
“My prayers are with this man’s family and friends. Our whole community grieves at this senseless loss of life. I call for peace in our community.”
So far, some details from the encounter have been published on social media. Some video captured shows a man that resembles Kessler lying on the ground with a head injury.
Two people, including a woman with a jacket that said, “Free Palestine,” rushed over to offer aid, but their efforts proved fruitless.