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The Poway synagogue shooting occurred on April 27, 2019, when a gunman armed with an AR-15 style rifle fired shots inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California, United States, a city approximately 20 miles (32 km) north of San Diego. The attack took place on the last day of the Jewish Passover holiday, which fell on a Shabbat. One woman was killed and three other people were injured, including the synagogue's rabbi. After fleeing the scene, the gunman, John Timothy Earnest, phoned 9-1-1 and reported the shooting. He was apprehended in his car approximately two miles (3.2 km) from the synagogue by a San Diego police officer.
After arraignment in late 2019, Earnest was scheduled to be tried on multiple state charges in June 2020; the state announced it would seek the death penalty. The federal government had also filed hate crime charges. The trial was originally intended to start in June 2020, but it was delayed until at least March 15, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At approximately 11:23 a.m. PDT, a gunman identified as 19-year-old John Timothy Earnest entered the Chabad of Powaysynagogue on the last day of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which fell on a Shabbat. Approximately 100 people were inside the synagogue.
Earnest carried a Smith & Wesson Model M&P 15 Sport IIsemiautomatic rifle and was wearing a tactical vest containing five magazines of ten rounds each. In the foyer, he shot and killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye, and then wounded Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who had founded the congregation. According to witnesses, Gilbert-Kaye had tried to shield the rabbi from the gunman.
Earnest then turned to a side room occupied by several people, including a number of children. He fired into the room, wounding one man with a bullet to the leg, and his 8-year-old niece. All the injured were expected to recover. Goldstein lost his right index finger from the shooting, despite four hours of surgery. After Earnest fled, Goldstein spoke to the congregation despite his injury, telling them to stay strong.
Earnest fired eight to ten rounds before his rifle jammed or malfunctioned, which prevented his creating additional casualties. Two members of the congregation ran toward the shooter. Earnest then fled the synagogue, entering a Honda sedan. Jonathan Morales, an off-duty United States Border Patrolman who was a member of the synagogue, opened fire and hit Earnest's car multiple times, but he fled uninjured.
Shortly thereafter, the suspect phoned 9-1-1 and reported the shooting himself. Earnest was apprehended approximately two miles (3.2 km) from the synagogue by a San Diego police officer responding to the shooting. Earnest left his car and surrendered, and was taken into custody without incident. The rifle, a tactical helmet, and five loaded magazines with 50 rounds, were recovered from Earnest's car; Earnest was wearing a tactical vest when he was arrested.
In what officials called a manifesto, Earnest claimed responsibility for the March 2019 Escondido mosque fire, which took place about 15 miles (24 km) from Poway. That arson attempt was extinguished with only minor damage to the building and no injuries; graffiti left in the parking lot referred to the earlier Christchurch shooting in New Zealand.
Earnest was a member of the Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which is affiliated with the theologically traditionalist Orthodox Presbyterian Church. According to The Washington Post, the shooter's manifesto, which expressed Christian motives for killing Jews, resulted in a social media debate among Christian pastors.
Rev. Duke Kwon of the Presbyterian Church in America expressed concern that the alleged shooter could articulate a Christian theology of personal salvation while also espousing anti-Semitism. He and other ministers denied that Christian theology and Scripture provide support for anti-Semitism. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church issued a statement that "[a]nti-Semitism and racist hatred which apparently motivated the shooter . . . have no place within our system of doctrine."
On April 30, 2019, Earnest was charged in San Diego County Superior Court with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder. All four charges included "hate-crime and gun allegations", which can incur more severe penalties upon conviction. The murder charge includes a "special circumstance" that Earnest intentionally killed his victim (Gilbert-Kaye) because of her religion, which could incur the death penalty under California law. Earnest pleaded not guilty to all the charges. A criminal complaint was also filed charging Earnest with arson of a house of worship, a reference to the March arson attempt against a mosque in Escondido. Earnest was ordered held without bail. A trial readiness hearing was scheduled for May 30 and a preliminary hearing for July 8.
On May 14, Earnest was arraigned in US District Court in San Diego on 109 federal charges: 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs using a dangerous weapon resulting in death, bodily injury and attempts to kill; 54 counts of hate crimes under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; and one count of damage to a religious property using fire for an earlier arson at Dar-ul-Arquam mosque in Escondido on March 24. Earnest is represented by a federal public defender.
On December 5, the court announced a trial date of June 2, 2020. This date was delayed due to the COVID 19 epidemic and the San Diego County District Attorney's office will seek the death penalty. Prosecutors scheduled a press conference to discuss trial details on March 5 and the trial will not occur until at least March 15, 2021. On July 20, 2021, Earnest pleaded guilty to the charges.
Vice President of the United StatesMike Pence stated "We condemn in the strongest terms the evil & cowardly shooting at Chabad of Poway today as Jewish families celebrated Passover. No one should be in fear in a house of worship. Antisemitism isn't just wrong - it's evil."
Governor of CaliforniaGavin Newsom responded by saying, "No one should have to fear going to their place of worship, and no one should be targeted for practicing the tenets of their faith."
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement which read "[M]oving forward this must serve as yet another wake-up call that antisemitism is a growing and deadly menace. All Americans must unequivocally condemn it and confront it whenever it appears."
Prime Minister of IsraelBenjamin Netanyahu stated "I condemn the abhorrent attack on a synagogue in California; this is an attack on the heart of the Jewish people. The international community must step up the struggle against anti-Semitism."
President of IsraelReuven Rivlin wrote, "The murderous attack on the Jewish community during Pesach, our holiday of freedom, and just before Holocaust Memorial Day, is yet another painful reminder that anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews is still with us, everywhere. No country and no society are immune. Only through education for Holocaust remembrance and tolerance can we deal with this plague."
At a press conference on the day after the shooting, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was injured in the shooting, called to "battle darkness with light." He suggested that the United States call for a moment of silence in public schools.
On April 29, the parents of the suspect issued a formal statement disavowing his actions, reading in part: "To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries." Their attorney noted that the family will not pay for Earnest's defense, instead leaving him to likely be represented by a public defender.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church issued a statement reading in part, "We deplore and resist all forms of anti-Semitism and racism. We are wounded to the core that such an evil could have gone out from our community. Such hatred has no place in any part of our beliefs or practices, for we seek to shape our whole lives according to the love and gospel of Jesus Christ."