A gunman walked into a San Diego-area synagogue crowded with Sabbath worshippers Saturday and opened fire with an assault-style rifle, killing one woman inside and wounding three others in a hate crime carried out on the last day of Passover, authorities said.
A 19-year-old man who authorities said gave himself up to police shortly after carrying out a deadly shooting in a Southern California synagogue filled with Sabbath worshippers is also under investigation for a mosque arson. In an interview on Sunday with NBC’s “Today” program, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein described the attack.
“I was face-to-face with this murderer, terrorist, who was holding a rifle and looking straight at me,” Goldstein said. “As soon as he saw me, he started to shoot toward me. My fingers got blown away.”Goldstein said the woman killed was Lori Kaye, a founding member of the three-decade-old congregation. The other two wounded were an 8-year-old Israeli girl and her uncle. The sheriff said they were struck by shrapnel but were “doing well” at a local hospital. After the shooting, the suspect fled in a car, escaping an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent who shot at the getaway vehicle but missed the suspect. The suspect pulled over and surrendered to police officers a short time later.
The suspect was identified as John Earnest, 19, of San Diego, the apparent author of a “manifesto” who claimed to have set a nearby mosque on fire last month and professed drawing inspiration from the gunman who killed nearly 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said police and FBI were investigating Earnest’s possible involvement in the March 24 pre-dawn arson fire at the Islamic Center of Escondido, a town about 15 miles (24 km) north of Poway. No one was hurt at the mosque fire. Gore said Earnest has no prior criminal record. Saturday’s gun violence at the Congregation Chabad temple in the town of Poway, California, about 23 miles (37 km) north of downtown San Diego, unfolded six months to the day after 11 worshippers were killed and six others wounded by a gunman who stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh yelling, “All Jews must die.” A rambling, violently anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim screed written by an individual calling himself John Earnest was found posted to the online text-storage site Pastebin.com and the file-storage site Mediafire.com. Links to the content on both sources were posted on the far-right internet message board 8chan. In that letter, the author also claimed credit for the Escondido mosque arson, which was put out by congregants who were sleeping inside and woke up to the smell of smoke. Local media at the time reported that a message scrawled on the driveway of the mosque mentioned the New Zealand massacre. Earnest was enrolled at California State University in San Marcos. In a statement, the university’s president said the school was “dismayed and disheartened” to learn Earnest was a student and was working with the sheriff’s department.