You’ll run into Gary Stephen Weksler at many a Fairfax-La Brea shul.
He’s distinctive. He’s about 50 years old and he’s missing a hand because he blew it off.
He has three felony convictions for setting off explosions and other crimes.
He goes around different shuls looking for handouts and looking to enjoy a kiddish. You’ll find him at many a fabrengen. He seems not at all abashed by his felony convictions. He’s convinced he’s a victim of law enforcement harassment and he’s happy to share his opinion on these matters.
Gary Stephen Weksler, focus of a police investigation into two explosions that tore through a Koreatown apartment building Tuesday, has a fixation with pyrotechnics and weapons, a relative and court records indicated Wednesday.
Moreover, the life of the 38-year-old suspect was apparently complicated by severe personality problems and a persecution complex and fueled by memories of recurrent run-ins with the law and a broken home.
From court records and an interview with Weksler’s uncle, Sid Weksler, a Los Angeles food processing executive, emerges a picture of a loner who could never hold a job for long and who never found his niche in society.
“He’s a juvenile delinquent,” Sid Weksler said of his nephew. “He’s a big, lumbering kid (he stands over six feet tall and weighs more than 200 pounds), who wouldn’t hurt a fly. He just looks like he would.”
Gary Weksler’s big fireworks cache, which he stored in his one-room, first-floor apartment on Menlo Avenue, is believed by police to be responsible for at least one of the explosions that injured 10 police officers. One of the officers, Dan Johnson of the Los Angeles Police Department’s bomb squad, was still hospitalized Wednesday night, in good condition at the Hospital of the Good Samaritan.
Weksler suffered a hand injury, possibly from an earlier fireworks accident, and was being held in the jail ward at County-USC Medical Center on suspicion of possession of a destructive device, a felony. Arraignment was scheduled for today.
Officials of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Police Department said the precise cause of the two blasts, which occurred about 10 minutes apart and which triggered a blaze that gutted the Victorian-style apartment house and rocked the neighborhood, was still under investigation.
Weksler, according to his criminal court records, was born in Los Angeles, the only child of parents who divorced when he was 4 years old. His father, Hal Weksler, is a partner with his brother, Sid, in an egg processing plant.
Lived With Father
After the divorce, Weksler grew up with his father, stepmother and two stepbrothers in West Los Angeles in an upper-middle-class environment, his uncle said. But he never got along with the family or society, Sid Weksler said in a telephone interview.
“He’s withdrawn,” he said. “He feels he can’t get a break.”
As a youth of average intelligence–but exhibiting personality problems–young Weksler showed the need for private schooling, according to court records. At that time, records indicate, he was undergoing psychiatric and psychological counseling.
It was also during that period, according to his uncle, that Weksler became fascinated with fireworks and guns.
“All his life, since I can remember, he liked fireworks,” Sid Weksler said. “Most kids do. But he stayed with it. This kid knows more about guns, gun powder and pyrotechnics than most.”
Then, reflecting on Tuesday’s bizarre events, he added, “It’s a sad thing.”
Gary Weksler dropped out of the 10th grade and embarked on an erratic employment history, which included working at his father’s plant, operating a taffy machine at Farmers Market and attempting to create a cottage industry selling collages made from gun parts and bullets.
Besides fireworks, his other passion was skeet shooting, Sid Weksler said.
Several years ago, his uncle recalled, Gary Weksler was almost killed while target shooting when a friend inadvertently wounded him near the heart with a .45-caliber slug.
According to court records, as a 17-year-old estranged from his family, Weksler began using marijuana. It was not long before confrontations with the law began.
Weksler’s police record shows a string of arrests, including suspicion of marijuana possession, begging in a public place, assault with a deadly weapon, attempted extortion, reckless driving and battery on a police officer.
In 1977, Weksler was convicted in Los Angeles County Superior Court for the sale of marijuana and in Beverly Hills Municipal Court for battery on a police officer. He received periods of probation for both offenses.
At the time of his arrest in 1977, police investigators noted that Weksler possessed a .38-caliber revolver, a 12-gauge shotgun and large quantities of ammunition.
A psychiatrist wrote to a judge in 1977 that Weksler’s “interest in weapons and their availability to him renders him somewhat unpredictable if he is placed under emotional stress.”
Said Sid Weksler: “He just doesn’t think like you and me. He’s in a slightly different world.”
The man blamed in a Koreatown fireworks explosion that injured 10 policemen last week says he was poking at a skyrocket with a knife, “curious to see what they make it with,” when he caused an earlier blast that tore off much of his right hand.
“I’m into fireworks,” Gary Weksler said Friday at a Westside motel where he has been staying since his release from Los Angeles County Jail. Weksler was released on his own recognizance Thursday pending a court appearance on charges of possession of a dangerous device.
Weksler, 38, conceded that he had been storing illegal fireworks at his Koreatown apartment. “It wasn’t an overabundance,” he said, just “a little more than an average person would have . . . enough to put on a small show.”
He said he collected the fireworks because he enjoyed putting on private pyrotechnics displays for his friends, usually at local beaches. “It’s a hobby of mine,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 20 years.”
Weksler refused to say where he was before dawn June 27 when an M-80 skyrocket exploded in his hand, ripping off two fingers, mangling two others and pocking his face and chest with burns from flaming explosive.
Later that day, officers went to his apartment after hospital personnel who were suspicious of his injuries contacted authorities.
According to police, bomb squad experts had discovered a “major fireworks cache” in his home before a blast tore through the apartment, causing minor to moderate injuries to 10 officers in and around the building.
Objects to Reports
Weksler objected to newspaper accounts that mentioned his personality problems and psychiatric counseling as a youth. “I am not some crazy bomber that makes bombs,” he said, stressing that his fireworks, which are illegal in Los Angeles, were the sort that are commercially available in other areas.
Weksler said that despite his injuries and the injuries suffered by the police officers, he would like to continue to “fool around with fireworks.”
Gary Stephen Weksler has long been a man with a dangerous obsession.
Four years ago, it cost him most of his right hand, hurt 10 police officers and destroyed his apartment building.
On Saturday, it injured both of his hands and eyes, left his Los Angeles rooming house a shambles and chased 240 of his neighbors out of their homes for nearly eight hours.
“I sure wish he’d get a different hobby,” Los Angeles Police Detective Bob Nelson said. “He’s running out of fingers.”
For 25 years, Weksler’s passion has been fireworks–spectacular Roman candles, earsplitting M-80 firecrackers and homemade noisemakers that he uses to put on illicit shows for friends at Los Angeles-area parks and beaches.
Authorities said the 43-year-old self-described pyrotechnics expert was stirring chemicals for a new batch of firecrackers when the mixture exploded at 12:50 a.m. Saturday, blowing out the walls of his second-floor room on South Bronson Avenue.
Weksler was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as police called a tactical alert and sent his Country Club Park-area neighbors to an evacuation center set up at Los Angeles High School.
He was reported in serious condition late Saturday. Hospital officials told police he lost an eye and fingers on both hands from the blast.
Weksler’s first serious brush with disaster came June 27, 1989. Police were called after Weksler drove himself to Queen of Angeles-Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center for treatment of an explosion-mangled right hand.
Officers investigating the incident were at Weksler’s apartment about three hours later when two more blasts erupted. The first explosion hurt 10 of them, including four from the bomb squad.
A larger second explosion 10 minutes later sent fireballs spewing into the air and blew out windows in neighboring buildings. It triggered a fire that gutted much of the Koreatown building.
Saturday’s explosion split open the second floor of the 82-year-old Bronson Avenue house where Weksler had apparently lived since 1989. Part of the downstairs ceiling collapsed.
Nelson, who investigated the 1989 incident and is also on the current case, said city building inspectors will determine Monday whether the $300,000, gray-tile house can be repaired.
Nine other tenants lived with Weksler in the rooming house. On Saturday, they were trying to contact their landlord, who they said is vacationing in Hawaii.
They described Weksler–who apparently works as a custodian–as a loner who came and went through a back door without talking to others.
“It’s lucky the explosion didn’t happen earlier when we were having Thanksgiving dinner,” said Reyna Soto, 29, who has lived in the building for two years. “The ceiling in the living room and dining room came down.”
Others said Saturday that exploding firecrackers were a familiar sound near the rooming house.
“I hear fireworks all the time. Once it set my car alarm off,” said Lula Watson, 76, who has lived in an apartment house next door for 16 years.
“If somebody whose hobby is fireworks wants to blow himself up, let him. But don’t do it where you’re going to hurt somebody else or destroy property.”
Saturday’s explosion sent glass, asbestos siding and window screens flying into Bronson Avenue. Neighbors awakened by the blast said they saw a large puff of smoke pour out of the rooming house but no fire.
“I thought it was an electrical explosion,” said Mario Diaz, 19, who lives across the street. “We were worried there might be another one.”
Police said Weksler will probably be charged with possession of an explosive. They said he recently completed parole after being convicted of possession of a dangerous device stemming from the 1989 explosion.
Injuries sustained by police in that incident included cuts, burns, concussions and hearing loss. Bomb squad member Bob Gollhofer was forced to retire because of his injuries, a police spokesman said.
Although Weksler’s neighbors also characterized him as an eccentric loner after the 1989 explosions, he bristled at that description.
In an interview with The Times a week after that incident, Weksler depicted himself as an average guy who was “into fireworks.” He said the first explosion had occurred when he poked at a skyrocket with a knife because he was “curious to see what they make it with.”
“I’m not some crazy bomber that makes bombs,” he said. “It’s a hobby of mine. I’ve been doing it for 20 years.”
His fireworks cache, he added, “wasn’t an overabundance,” just “enough to put on a small show . . . a little more than an average person would have.”
Despite his injuries, Weksler said at the time that he planned to continue to “fool around with fireworks.”
And he did.
“He just won’t stop,” Nelson said Saturday. “This guy continues to do this type of activity in areas that are heavily populated.
“I sure hope this is the last time.”
SANTA MONICA (KTLA) — A transient accused of detonating a bomb outside a Jewish center in Santa Monica pled not guilty Monday, according to court officials.
Ron Hirsch, 60, is charged with one felony count of explosion with intent to murder, use of a destructive device and explosive to injury/destroy and possession of a destructive device. He faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted.
Hirsch, a transient also known as J. Fisher and Israel Fisher, was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this month.
Hirsch has been in federal custody since he was caught in Cleveland after fleeing the state on a Greyhound bus.
Hirsch is accused of carrying out an explosion that sent a steel pipe encased in concrete into the side of the Chabad House, local headquarters of the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch sect, in Santa Monica.
The makeshift 300-pound missile appeared to have been launched from a plastic trash can containing hardened cement found nearby.
Also found were several rolls of plumbing and duct tape, metal rods and three empty bags of demolition chemicals.
Hirsch was captured in Cleveland Heights, Ohio near another Jewish center.