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Authorities identify suspect in ‘hate crime’ synagogue shooting that left 1 dead, 3 injured

Authorities say John Earnest, a 19-year-old white male, stormed the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, Calif., on April 27. (Video: Adriana Usero, Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)

On the final day of a major Jewish holiday, at a synagogue near San Diego, a 19-year-old man with an assault rifle and apparent anti-Semitic views opened fire, leaving one dead and three injured, authorities said.

Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, executive director of Chabad of San Diego County, identified Lori Kaye, 60, of Poway as the woman who was killed, according to the Associated Press.

Fradkin said those injured in the Passover shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue were Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Almog Peretz, 34 and an 8-year-old, Noya Dahan.

“In the face of senseless hate we commit to live proudly as Jews in this glorious country,” Fradkin said in a statement. “We strongly believe that love is exponentially more powerful than hate. 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.”

The San Diego County Sheriff’s office identified the suspect as John Earnest. According to Sheriff William D. Gore, the assault weapon might have malfunctioned after the gunman fired inside the Chabad of Poway, preventing a more extensive tragedy. 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.

Saturday’s shooting in Poway, about 20 miles north of San Diego, came six months after the massacre at Pittsburgh’s oldest synagogue, Tree of Life, where an armed shooter killed 11 people and injured six others in the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States.

In an apparent manifesto posted online, the alleged shooter drew inspiration for his attack from that tragedy as well as the mosques shootings in New Zealand in March.

The Poway shooting occurred on the last day of Passover, a holiday celebrating Jewish freedom from persecution.

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. Haynes said, according to the AP.

In a manifesto published online Saturday under the name John Earnest, the writer described plans to kill Jews, referring to himself as an “anti-Semite” and “white supremacist.” It referenced the alleged shooters at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue and the New Zealand mosques, Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler as role models. The writer expressed no remorse for his impending actions.

In the document, the writer confessed to setting fire to a mosque in Escondido, Calif., 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 Internet message board, 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 revolves around the idea of men’s rights, anti-feminism and the alt-right, and generally promotes a misogynistic worldview.

The three injured in the shooting were in stable condition, authorities said Saturday evening. Gore, the sheriff, said the injured rabbi, Goldstein, was wounded in the hand and was undergoing surgery. Minoo Anvari, a member of the congregation, told CNN affiliate KUSI her husband was inside the synagogue when the gunfire began. The shooter, a man, was screaming and cursing, she said. “My husband is shocked,” she said. “Shocked like everybody else.”

Anvari and her family are refugees from Iran, she said, adding that her community will not let the shooting divide them. “Why? The question is why?” she told KUSI. “We are strong. We are united. They can't break us."

Anvari and fellow member Steve Arnold said that Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was injured in the shooting, but that he did not leave his congregation until he was finished speaking to them — calming their fears and pledging resilience. Goldstein is “such a nice man” who knows everyone, Anvari said.

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.

“They open their arms,” Arnold told KUSI.

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, 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.”

Four people were transported to Palomar Medical Center with gunshot injuries around noon, Pacific time, officials said Saturday afternoon.

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.

“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, and that will not stand.”

President Trump expressed on April 27 his “deepest sympathies” for the victims of the shooting, which he said “looks like a hate crime." (Video: Reuters)

President Trump expressed his “deepest sympathies” for the victims of the shooting, which he said “looks like a hate crime,” before departing for a rally in Wisconsin.

“My deep condolences to all of those affected,” the president added.

Other political and religious leaders condemned Saturday’s attack and voiced their support of the Jewish community.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif) 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.”

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) 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.”

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, a Democratic presidential candidate, said the latest synagogue shooting underscores the need for tougher 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.

“The Jewish community again is devastated,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the organization’s chief executive, said on Twitter Saturday. “It’s heartbreaking to see yet another tragedy on Shabbat, on Passover, exactly 6 months after the Tree of Life.”

Clarification: A previous version of this story included a paraphrase that was erroneously written as a direct quote, attributed to a shooting witness.

Tony Perry in Poway, Calif., Anu Narayanswamy in Washington, and James Hohmann in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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