A candlelight vigil is held at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church for victims of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019..
(photo credit: JOHN GASTALDO/REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Six months separate the shooting this weekend at the Chabad synagogue in San Diego and the shooting last year of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh – and so much binds them together. This was the main takeaway of the US Jewish community in the hours and days after the attack, which left one congregant dead and three injured.
It was 11:23 a.m. on Saturday, when 19-year-old John Earnest, a white nationalist, allegedly burst into the Poway synagogue in the middle of Shabbat service to carry out an attack. He fired more than 10 rounds of ammunition, law enforcement officers told local news.
Earnest then fled the scene after a border patrol officer who happened to be at the synagogue at the time managed to deter him, and the suspect was arrested shortly after when he pulled over and surrendered to police.
Earnest’s weapon may have malfunctioned.
Rabbi recalls coming face-to-face with synagogue shooter, April 29, 2019 (Reuters)
It was reported that the off-duty U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent who fired at the fleeing suspect, an officer who has not yet been identified, had recently discovered his Jewish heritage and traveled more than 100 miles (160 km) each way to visit the Chabad synagogue from his home in El Centro, a city on the border with Mexico.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the rabbi of the synagogue, who was wounded in the attack told CNN, “I had spoken to him in the past about coming to the synagogue armed because he’s trained, and I want trained security as much as possible. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to have an armed security officer at every service, so whenever we had extra help, we were grateful for it.”
Earnest murdered Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, at close range. Goldstein was right behind her and lost his right index finger while trying to avoid Earnest’s bullets.
“I did not know what it was,” Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein said in an interview. “I thought Mrs. Lori fell or a table fell. I turned around, and I was face-to-face with the murderer-terrorist, who was holding a weapon and looking straight at me.”
“I turned around and saw a group of children in the banquet hall, including my granddaughter, and I just ran, not even knowing that my fingers were blown off, and hurled all the kids together and got them outside... to safety,” the rabbi continued.
Two others were injured in the attack were two Israelis from the southern town of Sderot, Noya Dahan, 8, and her uncle Almog Peretz, 31. Dahan’s family moved from Israel to the United States to escape the ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza on her southern Israeli town. She is the youngest victim of the attack.
Peretz was shot in the legs. Dahan suffered shrapnel injuries to her legs and face.
“The two moved from Sderot to San Diego a few years ago,” the ministry said in a statement. “They are in good condition. The Israeli Consul in Los Angeles Avner Saban spoke with the mother and offered all the assistance they may require.”
Earnest, a far-right activist, allegedly posted a manifesto shortly before the attack occurred and may have been involved in another hate crime.
About 20 minutes before the attack, a Twitter user reported that a manifesto had been published on a site popularly used by the far-right and was worried that a mass shooting was imminent. The manifesto has been attributed to Earnest, but this is still under investigation.
In the manifesto, he allegedly wrote, “Every Jew young and old has contributed to these. For these crimes, they deserve nothing but hell. I will send them there.”
He also stated that he hoped to inspire others to commit similar crimes and that he expected to be freed from prison and would “continue the fight.”
Minoo Anvari, whose husband witnessed the shooting, told Chabad.org News that the rabbi called for unity and prayed for peace even after getting shot. “The rabbi said, ‘We are united,’” said Anvari, a refugee from Iran.
“He prayed for peace,” said Anvari. “Even despite being injured, he refused to go to the hospital until he spoke. And he finished his speech, and he then left the synagogue.”
Goldstein, who is originally from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, is also a Jewish chaplain in the San Diego sheriff’s department. Goldstein has been described as “talkative, warm and kind” by members of the Southern California community.
In a press conference, Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said the congregation was targeted by “someone with hate in their heart... towards our Jewish community, and that just will not stand.”
The congregation “took security very seriously,” he continued. “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.”
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