A rabbi recalled the moment when he came face-to-face with the 19-year-old man who authorities said walked into a San Diego synagogue and opened fire, killing one woman and wounding three others, including the rabbi, on April 27.
The suspect, identified as San Diego resident John Earnest, gave himself up to police shortly after the shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue that was filled with Sabbath worshippers at the time. Earnest is also under investigation for mosque arson.
In an interview on April 28 with NBC’s “Today” program, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein described the attack, which took place on the last day of the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover. About 100 people were inside the synagogue.
“I was face-to-face with this murderer, terrorist, who was holding a rifle and looking straight at me,” Goldstein said. “As soon as he saw me, he started to shoot towards me … My fingers got blown away.
“Then he continued on and he just killed more right there on the spot. I turned around and I saw a group of children … 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.
“Fortunately, there was an off-duty patrol officer who came in pursuit of this terrorist,” he added.
According to witnesses, Goldstein continued to help other members of the community despite his wound.
After the shooting, the suspect fled in a car, escaping the off-duty Border Patrol agent who fired at the getaway vehicle, missing the suspect. Earnest pulled over and surrendered to police officers a short time later.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said the case is being investigated as a homicide, and may lead to hate crime charges and federal civil rights violations. Earnest appears to have posted a letter on the internet filled with anti-Semitic language.
Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) told The Epoch Times the shooting was an affront to American values.
“It is un-American. We stand with the Jewish community, with the people of Poway,” he said. “If we see something we say something. … The First Amendment contains the freedom of religion. People should feel safe to worship without fear of violence. We will start the work to help to heal.”
“We can’t stop all the bad actors,” he added, “but we can certainly establish the norm that this is wrong. I think this is important.”
President Donald Trump offered his “deepest sympathies to the families of those affected” from the South Lawn of the White House, before flying to a rally in Wisconsin.
Lin and Stan Wilson, from Wisconsin, were visiting relatives at a nearby neighborhood. Lin Wilson said she was saddened upon hearing the news.
“I don’t think it’s going to be fixed. I feel a little afraid of even being in church. It can happen anywhere,” she told The Epoch Times. “It doesn’t even have to be a church.”
Earnest was a 2017 graduate of Mt. Carmel High School and was a student at California State University, according to reports. He attended the north San Diego County campus and made the dean’s list.
In a statement, the university’s president said the school is “dismayed and disheartened” to learn Earnest was a student; the university is working with the sheriff’s department.
“It’s sad the shooter is only 19. I wonder where he got these ideas from,” Lin Wilson said.
Gore said police and the FBI were investigating Earnest’s possible involvement in the March 24 pre-dawn arson fire at the Islamic Center of Escondido, a town about 15 miles north of Poway. No one was hurt at the mosque fire. Gore said Earnest has no prior criminal record.
Epoch Times reporter Jane Yang, Sophia Fang, and Reuters contributed to this report