Synagogue shooter was church member, dean’s list student
by Mickey McLean
Posted 4/28/19, 01:58 pm
UPDATE: More details have emerged about the 19-year-old man in custody for the Saturday morning shooting at a synagogue near San Diego that left one person dead and three others wounded. USA Today reports that John T. Earnest, 19, is a member of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His pastor, Zachary Keele, told the newspaper, “It’s a deplorable act of wickedness. I’m still in shock. … I’m kind of numb.”
California State University, San Marcos, also confirmed that Earnest was a nursing student there who had earned dean’s list honors. The school released a statement saying it was “dismayed and disheartened” that he was suspected in “this despicable act.”
USA Today also reported that Earnest graduated in 2017 from Mt. Carmel High School in Poway, where his father taught science. Earnest was an honor student who took multiple AP classes, swam on the varsity swim team, and played the piano. “The words and actions of this individual are in no way representative of the beliefs held by our school community nor by his father, a long-time teacher at MCHS,” Poway Unified School District Communications Director Christine Paik said in a statement. “Mt. Carmel is a No Place for Hate campus.”
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said authorities continue to pore through Earnest’s social media accounts and a “manifesto” posted just before the attack. Gore said law enforcement officials were attempting to verify the authenticity of the letter, which reportedly details the shooter’s hatred of Jews.
Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, executive director of Chabod of San Diego County, identified the victims in Saturday’s shooting: Lori Kaye, 60, of Poway was killed, and the injured included Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Noya Dahan, 8, and Almog Peretz, 34. “We are deeply shaken by the loss of a true woman of valor, Lori Kaye, who lost her life solely for living as a Jew,” Fradkin said.
UPDATE (04/27/19, 9:34 p.m.): Law enforcement officials have identified the gunman in Saturday’s shooting at a synagogue near San Diego as John T. Earnest, 19. San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said the shooter’s weapon, described as an AR-style assault rifle, may have malfunctioned after he had fired numerous rounds inside the synagogue. He added that Earnest has no criminal record but may be connected to a deliberately set fire that damaged Dar-ul-Arqam mosque in nearby Escondido, Calif., on March 24. There were no injuries reported in that blaze. Authorities are searching Earnest’s house Saturday evening for further clues related to the shooting that killed a woman and wounded three others, including the synagogue’s rabbi.
“No one should have to fear going to their place of worship, and no one should be targeted for practicing the tenets of their faith,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
About an hour before Saturday’s attack, a person identifying himself as Earnest posted online an anti-Jewish rant that claimed a YouTube personality helped plan and fund the shooting. The writer, who said he was a nursing student, took credit for the Escondido mosque fire and referred to the attackers at mosques in New Zealand last month and at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018.
OUR EARLIER REPORT (04/27/19, 7:38 p.m.): An armed 19-year-old man entered a synagogue north of San Diego Saturday morning and opened fire on worshippers celebrating the last day of the Jewish Passover, killing a woman and wounding three other people. Police apprehended the man, whose name was not yet released, after he fled the scene in a car and called 911 to report he was involved in the shooting at Chabod of Poway. When an officer intercepted him, “the suspect pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody,” San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit told reporters. The officer found an “AR-type assault weapon” in the front passenger seat of the man’s vehicle, according to San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore.
Poway Mayor Steve Vaus called the incident an anti-Semitic hate crime “because of statements that were made when the shooter entered” the synagogue. FBI agents and detectives were questioning the man and authorities were combing through his social media posts and an “open letter” he wrote, as they worked to determine a motive, Gore said at a news conference. He added that an off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard for the synagogue opened fire on the shooter as he fled but missed him, hitting only the man’s getaway vehicle.
Four victims of the shooting were taken to the Palomar Medical Center Poway, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Gore said one of the victims, a woman, died there, while the other three, one girl and two men, were in stable condition with injuries that were not life-threatening.
“At this moment it looks like a hate crime,” President Donald Trump told reporters Saturday outside the White House, “but, my deepest sympathies to all of those affected, and we’ll get to the bottom of it.”
Saturday’s shooting comes exactly six months after an attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue left 11 people dead.
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Mickey is executive editor of WORLD Digital.