Mother of teen accused of JCC bomb threats: Autism, brain tumor drove son

The teen was born in the United States, and the family moved to Israel when he was 6.

US-Israeli teen arrested for bomb threats to JCCs (credit: REUTERS)
On the morning of March 23, police, along with FBI investigators, arrived in the sleepy Israeli town of Ashkelon, waking up the mother of a teenager believed to be behind hundreds of bomb threats against Jewish community centers thousands of miles away.
“I was shocked,” the mother, 58, repeated multiple times in a phone conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
The woman claimed her son has severe autism and a brain tumor that affects his behavior, which led him to issue the threats against Jewish community centers in the United States and around the world.
“When someone has a brain tumor, in the middle of their brain, there is no reason, there is no logic, there is a dysfunction,” she said.
She described her son as having mental and social disabilities, but high cognitive abilities, thus allowing him to perpetrate the threats without being aware of their consequences.
One example she used to describe her son was his obsession with maps. “He has drawn the same drawing [maps] since he was five years old, he has never drawn anything else – not a person, not an animal – nothing, ever.”
The teenager was born in Israel but lived in California until he was six years old, and is the only son of an Israeli-born father and American mother.
He was home-schooled and a recluse, having little contact with the outside world except for through his multiple computers, which were connected to the Internet by an antenna that sat on the family’s window.
Attorney Shira Nir, who is representing the teenager, said her client has a high IQ but the behavior and emotional intelligence “of a five-yearold child” and shows signs of autism.
“This is like a game for him,” remarked Nir, arguing that he was unable to comprehend the worldwide headlines his threats generated, including allegations that President Donald Trump was not doing enough to combat antisemitism. “He doesn’t understand the dangers. He doesn’t understand what he did.”
Police arrested the teenager on suspicion of perpetrating hundreds of bomb threats over the past three years against Jewish community centers and other organizations in the US and around the world. The teenager had his remand extended for another week on March 30 and is currently undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.
A police spokesman declined to comment on the suspect’s psychological state.
The suspect allegedly used complex methods to shield himself from identification when he made the calls. In one bomb threat to a Jewish community center on January 18, a masked voice said that a bomb was planted and “in a short time a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered.”
Due to the suspect’s advanced efforts to hide his identity, Israeli cybercrime investigators and the FBI employed a variety of undisclosed technologies to track the teenager’s whereabouts, eventually finding him at an apartment in the coastal city.
The suspect’s father, who works in hi-tech, was also arrested on suspicion that he was aware of the threats, but was released on Thursday.
The mother claimed he “wasn’t aware of anything,” while Nir said his father was aware his son was connected to the Internet but had no idea of any threats being issued.
Although the parents previously chose not to operate on the boy’s tumor, the mother said they now hope to go forward with a surgery.
“We are talking about a life-or-death surgery, but at this point, understanding the horrible symptoms from the tumor, I want him to find the proper surgeon and have the surgery.”
The mother also argued that the threats to JCCs did not come from a place of antisemitism, stating that her son grew up in Conservative Jewish home celebrating shabbat every week.
“I have a good relationship with him – I love him and he loves me,” said the mother. “This is not a problem, the problem is a brain tumor sitting in the middle of his brain, and the autism.”
JTA contributed to this report.