Gunman Opens Fire at San Diego Synagogue; One Killed, Three Wounded

Shooter wrote 'Every Jew is responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the European race' before embarking on attack

Two people hug as another talks to a San Diego County Sheriff's deputy outside of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue Saturday, California, April 27, 2019.
Denis Poroy/AP

A 19-year-old gunman opened fire inside a synagogue near San Diego as worshippers celebrated the last day of Passover, killing a woman and wounding the rabbi and two others Saturday, authorities said.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has identified the woman killed as Lori Kaye. Witnesses told the newspaper that the 60-year-old woman had jumped in front of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who founded the synagogue in 1986. Goldstein was wounded but insisted on finishing his sermon before going to the hospital. 

The shooting came exactly six months since a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue killed 11 people in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

San Diego County Sheriff William Gore told reporters that the suspect who had opened fire on the congregation with an assault weapon was a 19-year-old white man who lived in San Diego County. The suspect was later identified as John Earnest.

The suspect, Gore said, called the police himself after the shooting, saying that he wanted to turn himself in. When police located the man, he “jumped out of his car with his hands up” and the arresting police officer saw the rifle in his car.

There was no known threat after the shooter was detained at the Chabad of Poway, but authorities boosted patrols at places of worship as a precaution, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus told CNN he was "confident" the attack was a hate crime, saying it was committed by someone with "hatred in their heart, hatred toward our Jewish community."

“This is not Poway,” Vaus later said in a press conference, noting that the community had just held an interfaith event. “We will get through this, our thoughts and prayers will be with the families and those who are investigating. Poway will stay strong and will always be a community that cares for one another.”

Sheriff Gore told reporters that the 19-year-old suspect had no prior arrests, adding his department will work with the FBI and the city of Escondido to investigate Earnest's possible connection to an arson that caused property damage at Dar-ul-Arqam mosque last month but no injuries.

Jessica Parks, right, hugs Tina White outside of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue, California, April 27, 2019.
Denis Poroy/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the shooting, calling it "an attack on the heart of the Jewish people." He sent his condolences to Kaye's family and a speedy recovery to those wounded, and stressed "the international community must step up it efforts to combat anti-Semitism."

The statement also said that in light of the rising frequency of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide, Netanyahu would convene a special session this week with "all factors involved in the matter."

Almog Peretz, an Israeli who moved to California a few months ago and was wounded in the attack, said: "It doesn't matter where we go, we have to look out for ourselves. In Sderot, where I used to live, didn't they also fire rockets at us?"

About an hour before the attack, a person who identified himself as John Earnest wrote an anti-Jewish screed online, which said "Every Jew is responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the European race."

The manifesto also contained some unfounded allegations, claiming a YouTube star helped plan and fund the attack.

People attend a prayer and candlelight vigil at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church on April 27, 2019 in Poway, California
AFP

The post says he was in nursing school and cited the suspects accused of carrying out deadly attacks on mosques New Zealand and Pittsburgh synagogue last year.

In response to the attack, the Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters issued an official statement condemning the attack. "The murder of an innocent woman and the wounding of several others who were celebrating their faith in the synagogue, on the terra firma of our freedom-loving country, is appalling and heartbreaking," the statement read.  

“The alarm bells of recent events are ringing, and we call upon leaders from across all political divides to stop the dangerous, downward spiral of anti-Semitism,” said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky who belongs to Chabad. 

An interfaith vigil was held at the nearby Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church Saturday evening. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, 900 people of Jewish, Muslim and Christian denominations gathered together in solidarity for a service followed by a candlelight vigil. 

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and research institution in Jerusalem, released a statement offering condolences to the families of the victims and vilifying the shooting.

"We are also troubled by various forms of incitement featured in the media –  print, digital and social. The world must act to combat such forms of hate speech by leaders and laypersons alike," the statement said.

As President Donald Trump departed the White House for a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, he told reporters that his “deepest sympathies go to the people and families” affected by the shooting a the California synagogue.

“It looks like a hate crime,” Trump said, shaking his head, “hard to believe.”

Trump promised that “we will get to the bottom of it” and praised local law enforcement in San Diego for doing “a fantastic job.”

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, center, arrives with other law enforcement officials outside of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue, California, April 27, 2019.
Denis Poroy/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken with Israeli Consul Avner Saban, stationed in Los Angeles, who updated him on the investigation. 

Officials say San Diego County deputies were called just before 11:30 A.M. Four patients were admitted to Palomar Health Medical Center Hospital around 12:30 P.M., spokesman Derryl Acosta said.

A spokesperson for San Diego police told The Daily Beast they "don't believe there are any other suspects."

Sheriff Dore said that the victims who were hospitalized included a young girl and two men in stable condition. An older woman, he said, had died of her wounds.

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24-year-old Shelomoh Barr, who has attended Chabad of Poway over the past year, told Haaretz he is "very much in shock this happened," describing the congregation's rabbis as "the warmest and sweetest people one could ever meet."

"We see this on the news all the time but I feel deep down we never think it’s going to happen to our synagogues or places of worship," Barr added.

A handful of police cars were parked outside the synagogue in the city of Poway, just over 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of San Diego. Crime tape surrounded the street in front of the building.

Passover began on April 19 and was ending Saturday.

In Pittsburgh, a truck driver who authorities say expressed hatred of Jews has been charged in the October 27 rampage at the Tree of Life synagogue. He's pleaded not guilty.

Noa Landau contributed to this report.