A 19-year-old American has been identified as the gunman who opened fire inside a synagogue near San Diego as worshippers celebrated the last day of a major Jewish holiday, killing a woman and wounding the rabbi and two others Saturday, authorities said.
There were indications an AR-type assault weapon might have malfunctioned after the gunman, John Earnest, fired numerous rounds inside the Chabad of Poway, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said.
Earnest has no criminal record, but investigators were looking into a claim he made in an online manifesto about setting a fire at a mosque in nearby Escondido last month, Gore said. There was damage but no injuries.
Gore said authorities were reviewing copies of his social media posts and were investigating the attack as a possible hate crime in the city of Poway, just over 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of San Diego.
A person identifying themselves as John Earnest posted a racist, anti-Jewish screed online about an hour before the attack — exactly six months since 11 people were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest assault on Jews in U.S. history.
The poster described himself as a nursing school student and praised the suspects accused of carrying out deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand last month and at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue on October 27.
California State University, San Marcos, confirmed Earnest was a student on the dean's list and said the school was “dismayed and disheartened” that he was suspected in “this despicable act.”
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The manifesto includes hateful statements against Jews, Muslims, African Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and feminists, as well as other groups and minorities.
“Every Jew is responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the European race,” the manifesto said.
It also reiterates a conspiracy theory popular in right-wing circles in the United States about a Jewish-led attempt to “replace” white Americans with immigrants from other countries.
This theory was behind the shouts “Jews will not replace us” that were made by far-right activists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Just this weekend, President Donald Trump once again said there were “good people” within that group.
The letter also blasts Trump, who is described as “traitorous” and “a Zionist.”
An off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard in Poway fired at the shooter as he ran away, missing him but striking his getaway vehicle, Gore said.
Shortly after fleeing, Earnest called 911 to report the shooting, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said. When an officer reached him on a roadway, “the suspect pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody,” Nisleit said.
The sheriff said a girl and two men, including the rabbi, were wounded as the Jewish congregation gathered for Passover, a weeklong commemoration of the deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. The three were in stable condition at hospitals.
There was no known threat after Earnest was arrested, but authorities boosted patrols at places of worship as a precaution, police said.