April 28, 2019
Congregation Chabad of Poway
Exactly six months to the day after the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, a teenage gunman with hate in his heart took aim at Jews again on the Sabbath. This time the attack took place at Congregation Chabad of Poway on the other side of the country, about 20 miles north of San Diego, in a place just a bit smaller than the city of El'ad, in Israel.
One older woman succumbed to her wounds shortly after reaching the hospital. She was identified as Lori Gilbert Kaye, "a beloved member of Chabad of Poway congregation for many years."
A young girl and two men — including the rabbi of the synagogue — were wounded but survived and said to be in stable condition at Palomar Medical Center Poway after 19-year-old John Earnest opened fire Saturday morning at 11:23 am Pacific time.
The 8-year-old girl has been identified as Noya Dahan, whose family had moved to San Diego from Sderot, Israel, to get away from terrorism. The second man has been identified as Alon Peretz, Noya's uncle, visiting from Sderot for Passover.
Witnesses said that Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, founder of the synagogue, was in the middle of his sermon when the shooting started, just prior to Yizkor, the prayers for the departed. The rabbi reportedly tried to speak with the gunman, to stop him, but was shot and lost two fingers. However, that did not deter the rabbi from finishing his sermon: he refused to leave his congregation and go to the hospital until he finished speaking to worshipers, urging them to "stay strong."
Other congregants also stepped in and stopped the shooter from continuing his rampage, according to Poway Mayor Steve Vaus.
"This shooter was engaged by people in the congregation, and those brave people certainly prevented this from being a much worse tragedy," Vaus said. He added that the previous month, worshipers had learned safety protocols and how to respond during a shooting from police and local officials who came to visit the synagogue.
"I think this could've been far, far worse but they were being proactive, they were ready," Vaus told reporters. "I think that saved a lot more bloodshed and loss of life."
San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said the weapon used by Earnest appeared to be an AR-15 rifle.
The attack is being classified as a hate crime, due to anti-Semitic statements made by the shooter as he opened fire, such as "Jews were ruining the world."
An off-duty Border Patrol agent who was inside the synagogue at the time of the attack returned fire as the suspect fled, but did not hit him. He did manage to hit the suspect's vehicle.
Shortly after, Earnest reportedly called the California Highway Patrol to report the shooting and his location on Interstate 15, according to San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit.
A California Highway Patrol officer on his way to the scene heard the call come over the police scanner, saw the suspect en route, and pulled him over. According to Nisleit, Earnest exited his vehicle with his hands up and was taken into custody "without incident." The officer said he saw the rifle on the front passenger seat of the vehicle.
Law enforcement officials are examining an open letter posted online to an anonymous message board, 8chan, before the shooting, that was appeared to have been signed by the suspect, Gore said, to "determine its validity and authenticity." The letter references killing Jewish people and attacks on the Tree of Life Synagogue on Pittsburgh, as well as the mosque shootings in New Zealand. In addition, the author of the letter claims responsibility for an arson incident at the Islamic Center of Escondido on March 24, a week and a half after the New Zealand attacks.
President Donald Trump called the mayor to offer his condolences following the shooting, as did Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who noted it has been only six months since the Tree of Life Synagogue was similarly attacked in his city.
"Hard to believe, hard to believe," Trump told reporters at the White House just before flying to a rally. "We're doing some very heavy research. We'll see what happens, what comes up. At this moment it looks like a hate crime. But my deepest sympathies to all of those affected. And we'll get to the bottom of it."
Shortly after, the president tweeted his thoughts and prayers to "all of those affected" and his thanks to law enforcement:
Thoughts and prayers to all of those affected by the shooting at the Synagogue in Poway, California. God bless you all. Suspect apprehended. Law enforcement did outstanding job. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 27, 2019