One person was killed and three others were injured when a 19-year-old man opened fire at the Chabad of Poway in California on Saturday in what the city’s mayor has called a “hate crime.” The suspect, John T. Earnest, of San Diego, is being questioned by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, San Diego Police and the FBI. Earnest posted an anti-Semitic manifesto online prior to the shooting.
The shooting occurred at the synagogue just after celebrations for the final day of Passover began. The shooting also occurred exactly six months to the day of when a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 worshippers and wounding several others. The accused shooter in that mass shooting was arrested. He was motivated by his anti-Semitic views, according to investigators. Earnest said in his manifesto that he was inspired by the Tree of Life and Christchurch mosque shooters.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Office was called to the Chabad of Poway for a report of a shooting about 11:23 a.m. on April 27, Sheriff Bill Gore said at a press conference. Gore said a suspec armed with an “AR-type assault weapon opened fire on the people inside the synagogue.” Witnesses reported hearing several shots.
Four people were wounded and taken to Palomar Hospital, where one of the victims, an adult woman, later died, Gore said. The other three victims are in stable condition. Gore said the three surviving victims are a juvenile female and two adult males.
It was not immediately clear why the suspect left the synagogue. But Poway Mayor Steve Paus, told CNN, “I also understand from folks on the scene that this shooter was engaged by people in the congregation and those brave people certainly prevented this from being a much worse tragedy.”
“As the suspect was fleeing the temple, an off-duty Border Patrol agent opened fire on the suspect, but apparently did not hit him, but struck the car as it departed the area,” Gore said. “The suspect was shortly taken into custody.”
San Diego Police Chief Dave Nisleit said at a press conference, “As this incident was unfolding, a San Diego Police Department K-9 officer was en route to the scene, he was monitoring both the San Diego police department’s dispatch and the sheriff’s dispatch, heard the call and started making his way to this call. As he was en route, he also overheard on the CHP scanner a suspect who had called into CHP to report that he was just involved in this shooting and his location, which was Rancho Bernardo and the Interstate 15.”
Nisleit said as his officer exited the freeway he, “clearly saw the suspect and his vehicle. The suspect pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody by the San Diego Police Department. As the officer was taking this 19-year-old male into custody, he clearly saw a rifle sitting on the front passenger seat of the suspect’s vehicle.” He said the suspect was taken into custody without further incident.
Gore said the investigation is being led by his department with assistance from the San Diego Police and the FBI.
Poway Mayor Steve Vaus told reporters, “I want you to know, this is not Poway. The Poway I know comes together as he we did just a few weeks ago in an interfaith event. We always walk with our arms around each other. And we will walk through this tragedy with our arms around each other. We have deep appreciation for those who showed courage at the Chabad. Deep appreciation for the law enforcement agencies which responded so quickly. We will get through this. Our thoughts and prayers will be with the families and those who are investigating. Poway will stay strong and we will always be a community that cares for one another.”
A photo tweeted by a local reporter shows police, fire and other emergency responders at the scene:
Another photo showed several police vehicles and an apparently active scene:
The synagogue is located at 16934 Chabad Way. According to an event announcement, Chabad of Poway was celebrating its Passover Holiday Celebration on Saturday. It was set to begin at 11 a.m. and end at 7 p.m. with a final Passover meal.
On Facebook, Chabad of Poway said about the celebration, “Experience the Priestly blessing during the prayer service,” and said there would be a “Yizkor Memorial Service,” and “Final Holiday Meal with Matzah, Wine and Appetizers.” The Chabad of Poway added, “The Seder celebrates our past redemption, while the final meal is celebrated in anticipation of Moshiach and the coming redemption.”
According to its website, “Chabad of Poway has become a popular center for Jews of all backgrounds who want to learn more about their Jewish roots. Chabad offers a wide variety of educational and spiritual opportunities, including Torah classes and lectures, Shabbaton dinners, and an array of family and social activities. Traditional Jewish values are brought to life in a joyous, non-judgmental atmosphere.”
The website added, “Chabad serves all segments of the Jewish community. Everyone is welcome regardless of their personal level of religious observance. The philosophy is in keeping with the Chabad-Lubavitch approach of joy, scholarship and unconditional acceptance and love for every Jew. The services are traditional, and are conducted in a joyous, casual atmosphere. Children are included and most welcome. Many of those who attend cannot read Hebrew, yet everyone feels at home. The prayer book is bi-lingual and various English readings are included in the service. Song and commentary add meaning and participation to the prayers.”
The Chabad is led by Rabbi Mendel and Shterna Goldstein, with the additional guidance of Rabbi & Rebbetzin Emeritus Rabbi Yisroel & Devorie Goldstein, who established the Chabad and community center in 1986. Mendel and Shterna Goldstein moved from Brooklyn to take over the Chabad in 2015.
Minoo Anvari, a member of the congregation, told NBC San Diego, “It’s a very important celebration for us. There’s lots of people inside, they’re praying. Everybody was crying and screaming.”
Speaking outside of the White House on Saturday, President Donald Trump said, “”y deepest sympathies go to the people that were affected, the families, their loved ones, by the obviously looks right now based on my last conversations, looks like a hate crime, hard to believe. “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.”