Woman dead, 3 injured in San Diego-area synagogue shooting

A view of the Chabad congregation in Poway, California. (Google Street View)

A shooting at a Chabad synagogue in Poway, near San Diego, California, has left one person dead and three injured, including a child. Lori Gilbert-Kaye has been identified as the congregant who died in the shooting.

Gilbert-Kaye, 60, of San Diego, is credited with jumping in front of the synagogue’s rabbi to shield him from the gunman’s bullets. She is survived by her husband and 22-year-old daughter.

Police in Poway detained a white 19-year old San Diego man in connection with the shooting on the last day of Passover, and hospitals said they were taking in the wounded people. The suspect left an “open letter” prior to the morning attack, law enforcement said.

“A man has been detained for questioning in connection with a shooting incident at the Chabad of Poway synagogue,” the San Diego County Sheriff’s office said Saturday afternoon on Twitter. “Deputies were called to Chabad Way just before 11:30 a.m. There are injuries. This is a developing situation.”

Sheriff William Gore said in a news conference that the fatality was an adult woman, and the three injured were two adult males and one juvenile female. News 10 San Diego named one of the injured as the synagogue’s rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein.

In March, Goldstein wrote a Facebook post lamenting the deadly shooting at a mosque in New Zealand.

“Attacking innocent people is abhorrent,” he wrote. “It is abhorrent when it is a shul in Pittsburg and it is abhorrent when it is in a Mosque in New Zealand!”

A police spokesman said that a Customs and Border Patrol agent working off duty as a synagogue guard fired on the suspect as he fled the building, hitting his vehicle. The suspect called police and turned himself in, exiting his car with his hands up when police arrived where he had pulled over. There was an assault rifle in the car.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus told CNN that the danger was over. He said congregants had engaged and helped to stop the shooter, who apparently had anti-Semitic intent.

“I have heard that this was someone with hate in their heart, hate toward the Jewish community,” he said.

Vaus later added: “It was a hate crime,” an assessment he said was based on “statements that were made when the shooter entered.” He would not elaborate.

NBC 7, a local television station, identified the shooter as John T. Earnest. The sheriff confirmed that Saturday evening, saying the suspect had no prior contact with the police.

Gore said law enforcement was examining evidence that Earnest may have been involved in a mosque arson in Escondido, California, earlier this year, and whether the attack on the synagogue was a hate crime.

CNN quoted the Palomar Medical Center Poway as saying it was expecting four trauma patients from the shooting.

Poway, about 20 miles north of San Diego, is an upper-middle-class city with about 48,000 residents.

Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters in New York released a statement calling the Chabad synsgogue shooting “appalling and heartbreaking.”

“We extend heartfelt sympathy to the family of Lori Gilbert-Kaye upon their terrible loss. We mourn with you in your time of grief. Our prayers for a speedy recovery to Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and the others who were viciously injured by the shooter. We are grateful for the heroic efforts by individual(s) in the synagogue blocking the shooter from inflicting further injury and preventing greater loss of life. We are thankful to the California Highway Patrol in San Diego for their quick response in apprehending the shooter.

“Anti-Jewish violence in the United States has now risen to a level that cannot be ignored or dismissed. We appeal to members of government on the local, state and federal level, media agencies, school teachers, college professors and university leaders to lead responsibly and take the initiative to uproot the destructive scourge that threatens the core values of this country.”

President Donald Trump, speaking in Washington, D.C., told reporters “it looks like a hate crime.”

“My deepest sympathies go to the people that were affected, the families, their loved ones. By the — obviously it looks like right now based on my last conversations looks like a hate crime, hard to believe,” he said before leaving for Wisconsin for an election rally. “We’ll see what happens. It looks like a hate crime.”

The shooting on the last day of Passover was six months to the day after the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, when an alleged white supremacist murdered 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue complex.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was injured in the shooting. (Chabad.org/News)

CNN quoted witnesses as saying that there were six or seven shots, and that Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein had two fingers blown off.

Chabad.org said that Goldstein, originally from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., “is also a Jewish chaplain with the San Diego sheriff’s department. Goldstein has been described as ‘talkative, warm and kind’ by members of the Southern California community.”

The Anti-Defamation League said it is on the ground in San Diego “working with local authorities to set up a community support center for those directly affected by the shooting.”

Trump spoke about the shooting at the rally Saturday night in Green Bay.

“Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded and stands in solidarity with the Jewish community,” he said. “We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism, which must be defeated.”

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement expressing shock and alarm at the second such attack on a synagogue in the U.S. in the past six months.

“”Now our thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones,” museum director Sara J. Bloomfield said . “But moving forward this must serve as yet another wake-up call that anti-Semitism is a growing and deadly menace. The Holocaust is a reminder of the dangers of unchecked antisemitism and the way hate can infect a society. All Americans must unequivocally condemn it and confront it in wherever it appears.”

Meanwhile, Baltimore’s Jewish community was swift to react to the San Diego shooting, as were national Jewish organizations.

The Batimore Jewish Council and The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore released a statement Saturday evening condemning the Shabbat tragedy.

“Our hearts are broken to learn of today’s shooting in the midst of Shabbat services at the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego. This attack on a Jewish community during prayer on the final day of the Passover holiday – apparently motivated by anti-Semitism, and on the six-month anniversary of the shootings in Pittsburgh – is the latest example of a horrifying act of violence on a place of worship,” the statement said..

“The Baltimore Jewish Council and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore thank our partners in federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as our federal, state and local elected officials, for joining us in their collective commitment to ensuring the safety of our communities. Their response to today’s shooting was immediate and appreciated.

“Hate has no place in our society – here, in San Diego, in Sri Lanka, in New Zealand, in South Carolina, in Pittsburgh, or anywhere in the world. We join in mourning and praying for the victims, and we are more committed than ever to working to ensure that people of all faiths are safe in their synagogues, churches, mosques, and other places of worship.

“We pledge to continue to combat anti-Semitism as well as other acts and words of hate.”

Following the Poway shooting, Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs issued the following statement:

“At the beginning of Passover during Seder Jewish communities all over the world opened their doors hoping to find Elijah announcing a time of redemption with an end to hate and injustice. How tragic to close our festival of freedom with yet another brutal attack reminding us that redemption is not near at hand.

“The news of today’s shooting at Chabad of Poway, targeting innocent people during a Passover celebration, breaks our hearts anew.

“We remind ourselves of the outpouring of support from people of all faiths and those of no faith following the deadly attacks against Christians at prayer in Sri Lanka, against Muslims in New Zealand, and at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. These helpful, hopeful responses teach that love is stronger than hate.

“Judaism must always be welcoming of all as we continue to work ceaselessly to ensure the safety and protection of all people.

“As the terrible facts of this deadly attack come to light we join all people of conscience in prayers for the victims and their loved ones, and vow to provide strength, solidarity and support for the entire community.”

The Central Conference of American Rabbis said its membership was “heartbroken to learn of the shootings at Chabad of Poway this Shabbat. We send prayers of condolence and healing for the community. Moreover we remain as resolved as ever to work with all peace-loving people toward an end to hate and an end to gun violence, and for the ability to pray in all our places of worship without fear.”

This story is developing.

Ron Kampeas is JTA’s Washington Bureau Chief.

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