Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

California synagogue shooting: one dead, three injured as gunman opens fire on Sabbath worshippers

Woman killed in a hate crime carried out on the last day of Passover

A gunman walked into a San Diego synagogue crowded with Sabbath worshippers on Saturday and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing one woman inside and wounding three in a hate crime on the last day of Passover.

The shooter killed Lori Kayne, 60, and injured Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Noya Dahan, 8, and Almog Peretz, 34, authorities said.

Rabbi Goldstein, who was leading the service, suffered a gunshot wound to his hands but carried on delivering his sermon, Audrey Jacobs, a friend of the slain woman, said on Facebook.

She said Kane had been “taking bullets” for the rabbi to save his life.

The violence at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in the Poway, California, about 37 kilometres north of downtown San Diego, unfolded six months to the day after 11 worshippers were killed and six others were wounded by a gunman who stormed a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

John Earnest, 19, fled the scene by car and was arrested a short time later when he pulled over and surrendered to police.

Earnest, who had no previous trouble with the law, may be charged with a hate crime in addition to homicide, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said.

He is also being investigated in connection with an arson attack on a mosque in nearby Escondido, California, on March 24.

"Any time somebody goes into a house of worship and shoots the congregants, in my book that's a hate crime," said Steve Vaus, the Mayor of Poway.

There were signs that the assault weapon malfunctioned after the gunman fired off rounds inside, Sheriff Gore said.

He said an off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard fired at the shooter as he fled, missing him but striking his getaway vehicle, police said.

Shortly after fleeing, the suspect called 911 to report the shooting, San Diego police chief David Nisleit said.

A San Diego officer was en route to the scene when he heard a radio message "of a suspect who had called into California Highway Patrol to report that he was just involved in this shooting and his location", Mr Nisleit said.

When an officer reached him on a roadway, "the suspect pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody", he said.

Mr Nisleit said an assault rifle, believed to be the murder weapon, was found on the front passenger seat of the car.

Authorities are reviewing copies of the suspect’s social media posts, including what Sheriff Gore called a "manifesto."

Saturday's Passover violence followed a recent spate of deadly attacks on houses of worship around the world.

Suicide bombings during Easter Sunday services at several churches in Sri Lanka killed more than 250 people.

Weeks earlier, a gunman who opened fire at two mosques in New Zealand left 49 people dead and more than 40 wounded, some as they knelt in prayer.

Earnest had reportedly posted an anti-Jewish tirade online about an hour before the attack, praising those who carried out deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand last month and at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue on October 27.

Synagogue members hug as a man with a hand injury looks on outside of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue Saturday, April 27, 2019. AP Photo
Synagogue members hug as a man with a hand injury looks on outside of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue Saturday, April 27, 2019. AP Photo

The synagogue was hosting a holiday celebration starting at 11am and ending in a final Passover meal at 7pm, KGTV 10 news reported.

Authorities said about 100 people were inside the temple, where Saturday services would have been under way or just concluded.

Mr Vaus, speaking from a police command centre, said the shooting was a hate crime, based on comments uttered by the gunman when he entered the synagogue.

We are horrified and upset, and we want them to know we are thinking of them

Caitlin Bromberg

Minoo Anvari, an Iranian refugee who said her husband was attending services inside when gunshots began, said he called to tell her the shooter was shouting and cursing.

Ms Anvari said the shooting was unbelievable in a peaceful and tight-knit community.

"We are strong. You can't break us," she said.

Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, executive director of Chabad of San Diego County, said: "In the face of senseless hate we commit to live proudly as Jews in this glorious country.

"We strongly believe that love is exponentially more powerful than hate. We are deeply shaken by the loss of a true woman of valour, Lori Kaye, who lost her life solely for living as a Jew."

Donny Phonea, who lives across the street from the synagogue, turned off his power drill and heard someone shout, "Police". Then he heard three or four shots.

Mr Phonea, 38, looked over his backyard fence and saw people hiding behind an electrical box in the parking lot of a neighbouring church. At that point, he knew something was "very, very wrong", he said.

"I'm a little taken aback," said Mr Phonea, who moved to Poway two weeks ago. "I moved here because safety was a factor. Poway is very safe."

Cantor Caitlin Bromberg of Ner Tamid Synagogue, down the street from the shooting scene, said her congregation learnt of the shooting at the end of their Passover services, and that they were heading to Chabad to help and show support.

US President Donald Trump offered his sympathies on Saturday, saying the shooting "looked like a hate crime".

"Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded and stands in solitary with the Jewish community," he said later at a rally in Wisconsin.

"We forcefully condemn the evils of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated."

California Governor Gavin Newsom said he joined the community in grief.

"No one should have to fear going to their place of worship, and no one should be targeted for practising the tenets of their faith," Mr Newsom said.

Updated: April 29, 2019 04:26 AM