Update, April 27, 11:09 p.m.: This version of the story includes information on shooter drills the Poway Chabad congregation recently did.
The shooter at a San Diego-area synagogue praised the man who attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue exactly six months ago, but the carnage in San Diego would have been worse but for safety and shooter response protocols learned by the San Diego congregations last month.
The man who shot up the synagogue in Poway near San Diego killed one and injured three more, but Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said worshippers had learned how to respond during a shooting when police and local officials visited the synagogue last month.
“I think this could’ve been far, far worse but they were being proactive, they were ready,” Vaus said. “I think that saved a lot more bloodshed and loss of life.”
Vaus told CNN that he believed a hate crime had occurred, “because of statements that were made when the shooter entered.”
The deceased was an adult woman and the injured, who are in stable condition, are a juvenile girl and two adult men, one of whom was a rabbi. At least 100 people were inside the synagogue at the time of the shooting.
The suspect was identified by Sheriff William Gore as 19-year-old John Earnest. The shooting took place at Congregation Chabad at approximately 11:23 a.m. local time when Earnest allegedly used an AR-type assault weapon and left an “open letter,” Gore said.
A manifesto written in Earnest’s name and published on a far-right online message board also took credit for an unsolved mosque arson last month in nearby Escondido. Gore said that Earnest is now being investigated as in relation that incident as well.
Gore said that Earnest fled the scene after he stopped shooting, possibly after his gun malfunctioned. An off-duty Border Patrol office who was working as a security guard fired at Earnest as he fled, missing the alleged gunman but hitting his car. After Earnest drove away, he allegedly called police to share his location. Upon the police’s arrival at his car, he immediately surrendered with his hands up when police arrived. Gore said the arresting officer saw a rifle in his passenger seat.
Saturday is the last day of Passover, and the congregation had advertised a holiday-related celebration on its Facebook page to begin at 11:00 a.m.
The day is also the six-month anniversary of the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed by a gunman who allegedly yelled “All Jews must die.” The manifesto published in Earnest’s name praised the accused Pittsburgh gunman, as well as the suspect in the killing of 50 at New Zealand mosques last month.
Witnesses told the news network that the rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, had fingers shot off, but that he spoke to congregants to comfort them before taking himself to the hospital. Gore confirmed that Goldstein was one of the wounded.
Helen Chernikoff contributed reporting.