By Danny R. Johnson – San Diego County News Editor
POWAY–John Earnest, a 19-year-old and San Diego County resident, took an assault rifle and opened fire at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway this past Saturday morning leaving one dead and three injured, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
The injured were transported to Palomar Medical Center with gunshot injuries law enforcement officials told the media at a news conference Saturday afternoon.
Saturday’s shooting in the quiet and middle class community of Poway, approximately 20 miles north of San Diego, comes six months after the horrific massacre at Pittsburgh’s oldest synagogue, Tree of Life, on October 27, 2018, where an armed shooter killed 11 people and injured six others in the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States.
One of the victims, a woman, “succumbed to their wounds,” according to Poway Mayor Steve Vaus. The three others — a girl and two men — remain in the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and are expected to be released as soon as they are well to do so. “I can only tell you that we have a fatality,” Vaus said in an interview with MSNBC, “and I can also tell you that it was a hate crime.”
Among the injured was Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. San Diego County Sheriff William D. Gore said the rabbi was wounded in the hand and was scheduled for surgery late Saturday evening. Minoo Anvari, a member of the congregation, told CNN that “[Goldstein] did not leave his congregation until he was finished speaking to them — calming their fears and pledging resilience.”
In an apparent manifesto posted online, the alleged shooter drew inspiration for his attack from the deadly March 15, 2019, Christ Church, New Zealand mosque massacre as well as the Pittsburgh shootings. According to Sheriff Gore, the assault weapon used by suspect Earnest might have malfunctioned after the gunman fired inside the Chabad of Poway, preventing a more widespread disaster.
An off-duty border patrol agent fired at the shooter when he was fleeing, but missed. The agent struck the suspect’s car as he fled, Gore said in a news conference. San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said the suspect called in to police to say he was involved in the shooting and gave his location. A K-9 officer who was on his way to the synagogue saw the suspect’s car.
“The suspect jumped out of the car with his hands up,” said Nisleit, and was taken into custody. While making the arrest, the officer saw an assault rifle in the suspect’s car, Nisleit said.
The suspect is in custody for questioning, according to Nisleit, and Gore confirmed the alleged shooter had no earlier contact with law enforcement. Earnest is a California State University San Marcos student, the university’s President Karen S. Hayness said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In a manifesto published online Saturday under the name John Earnest, the writer described plans to kill Jews, and referring to himself as an “anti-Semite” and “white supremacist.” It referenced and praised the alleged shooters at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue and the New Zealand mosques, and he also cited Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler as role models.
The document contained a confession to setting fire to a mosque in Escondido, California, located fewer than nine miles from the Poway Chabad, a month earlier, and dedicated the arson to the alleged New Zealand shooter. The writing mirrors the alleged New Zealand shooter’s manifesto. In a post on 8chan, an underground Internet message board used as a backdoor communications source by Neo-Nazi and white supremacists, a user who appears to be Earnest shared the manifesto and announced his plan to live-stream his actions on Facebook and shared a link, but the social media platform blocked the profile before it gained widespread attention.
In his 8chan message, the user references the “red pill” movement, which developed on Internet message boards and revolved around the idea of a white European descent men’s rights movement, anti-feminism, anti-LGBTQ, promoter of the worldwide alt-right political campaign, and generally promotes a misogynistic worldview.
The Poway shooting occurred one week after Easter Sunday on the last day of Passover, a holiday celebrating Jewish freedom from persecution. Chabad is an orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement. Chabad Houses, like Jewish community centers, foster a philosophy of inclusion, opening their doors to individuals of all faiths and levels of observance.
The Chabad of Poway hosts a weekly Kiddush luncheon after Shabbat morning services conclude. On Saturday, it also held a Passover celebration, according to 10News San Diego, which was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. and end at 7 p.m. with a final holiday meal. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department responded to reports of an active shooter at the synagogue just before 11:30 a.m.
Two prayer services were in session at the synagogue at the time of the shooting. The Poway Sheriff’s Station confirmed the shooting via Twitter after deputies were called to the scene by “reports of a man with a gun.”
Political and religious leaders condemned Saturday’s attack and voiced their support of the Jewish community. U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) said on Twitter: “Yet again a place of worship is the target of senseless gun violence and hate. Anti-Semitism is real in this country, and we must not be silent — enough is enough.”
U.S. House of Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA) also posted on Twitter, condemning the act of violence: “Tragic news that a gunman has attacked Chabad of Poway synagogue, on this, the last day of Passover, a day that is supposed to be a celebration of faith and freedom. I am thinking of and praying for, those hurt and affected.”
According to the Washington Post, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, a Democratic presidential candidate, said the latest synagogue shooting underscores the need for stricter gun laws. “This is one more demonstration that we have a new normal, and that we have become so divided that . . . we are allowing the divisions to lead to hate and allowing the hate to lead to violence,” Hickenlooper, who was governor during the Aurora movie theater shooting in 2012 that killed 12 people, told reporters after speaking at a labor forum in Las Vegas Saturday afternoon. “It is a combination of President Trump’s leadership at the top but tied into some of the real challenges we have around issues of mental health. People seem so vulnerable to the hatred.”
The Anti-Defamation League, which has recorded mass murders of Jews in the United States for decades, also vowed to monitor the situation, posted a statement on Twitter on Saturday evening: “This shooting is a reminder of the reality and virulence of anti-Semitism. It must serve as a call to action for us as a society to deal once and for all with hate. Jewish people and those of all faiths should not have to live in fear of going to their house of worship. From Charleston to Pittsburgh to Oak Creek and from Christchurch to Sri Lanka, and now Poway, we need to say “enough is enough.” People in a position of authorities, from elected officials to tech CEOs, need to stand united against hate and address it, not only after it happens, but by enforcing norms and standing for our shared values long before such a crime takes place.”