A woman has died and a rabbi was injured after shots were fired inside a Poway, California synagogue filled with people celebrating the last day of Passover. A suspect was taken into custody approximately two miles away from the synagogue while three patients were rushed to a nearby hospital.
A man with a rifle entered Chabad of Poway on Rancho Bernardo Road, west of Interstate 15 at 11:23 a.m. and opened fire on the people inside, law enforcement officials said.
“We didn’t hear him screaming or saying anything. He was just focused to kill. You saw the hate and the murder in his eyes,” one witness told NBC 7. “He had a vest and he had clips in the vest. He was ready. He was ready. He came in to kill.”
The suspect John T. Earnest, 19, of San Diego, does not have a criminal history and has no apparent connection with white supremacist groups, according to San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore. Read more about Earnest here.
As the suspect fled the scene, an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent who was in the synagogue at the time of the shooting opened fire on the suspect, missing the man but striking his vehicle, Gore said.
Near the freeway, a San Diego police officer was en route to the scene while monitoring the sheriff’s dispatch when he saw the suspect vehicle.
The suspect pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was taken into custody, SDPD Chief David Nisleit said.
“As the officer was placing this 19-year-old male into custody, he clearly saw a rifle sitting on the front passenger seat of the suspect vehicle,” Nisleit added.
More than half a dozen police cars were seen along Rancho Bernardo Road outside Phil’s BBQ — roughly two miles away from the temple — where the suspect was apprehended.
Officials have not released a possible motive for the shooting.
They are preparing search warrants for the Earnst residence, his vehicle and for the synagogue in Poway. They are also collecting digital evidence and are aware of his manifesto, Gore said.
A 60-year-old woman died from injuries suffered in the shooting. A girl and two adult men, including a rabbi, were injured and rushed to nearby hospitals, officials confirmed.
The 57-year-old rabbi suffered injuries to index fingers, which trauma surgeon Michael Katz, M.D. said was “the largest injury” of the three surviving victims.
The rabbi was taken into surgery, where he “most likely” will lose his right index finger but may keep his left index finger.
“The rabbi is appropriately upset,” Katz said.
The 34-year-old man and the girl sustained shrapnel injuries. Katz said the three should “make good recoveries.”
“While mass shootings are rare, gunshot wound victims, for us, are not,” Katz said. “At the time of such a tragic event, it’s important to be a supportive mechanism for everyone involved.”
Chabad of Poway is located at 16934 Chabad Way. The temple was filled as members marked the last day of Passover.
“It’s a very important celebration for us. There’s lots of people inside, they’re praying,” Minoo Anvari, a member of the congregation, told NBC 7. “Everybody was crying and screaming.”
Anvari said her husband was inside during the shooting and told her someone came in and started cursing and shooting.
Residents Drew Foncerrada and Avery Foncerrada were walking their dog in the area when they saw “cop cars racing.”
“People choose this neighborhood for their kids because it’s totally safe,” Drew Foncerrada said.
“Nothing happens like this over here,” Avery Foncerrada added.
Two other places of worship, St. John of Damascus Orthodox and Incarnation Lutheran Church, are located immediately next to the synagogue.
John lives near the synagogue and said when he heard the noise of several patrol cars going up and down the street he knew something was not right.
“It’s a pretty tight neighborhood. I’ve been here for 20-some years,” he said. “I have a buddy whose daughter goes to preschool here, and, you know, the people here are the nicest people you ever met.”
“I want you to know, this is not Poway,” said Mayor Steve Vaus who described the shooting as a hate crime during interviews with cable news channels. “We always walk with our arms around each other.”
“We are grateful to those in the congregation there that engaged the shooter and prevented this from being a much more horrific incident,” Vaus told MSNBC.
Those injured were transported to Palomar Medical Center Poway, according to deputies. The sheriff said the girl was then transferred to Rady Children’s Hospital.
Initially, two children were reported missing during the incident, but deputies confirmed they were reunited with their parents shortly after.
“As you can imagine, it was an extremely chaotic scene with people running everywhere when we got here,” San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Aaron Meleen said.
The Family Assistance Center will be at Poway High School 15500 Espola Road to help relatives looking for loved ones from the synagogue.
U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, D-52, posted on social media, saying Saturday’s shooting marks six months to the day of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Other leaders sent condolences including President Donald Trump.
“My deepest sympathies go to the people that were affected, the families, their loved ones, by the obviously looks right now based on my last conversations, looks like a hate crime, hard to believe,” President Trump said from the south lawn of the White House. “We’re doing some very heavy research we’ll see what happens, what comes up, at this moment it looks like a hate crime, but my deepest sympathies to all of those affected and we’ll get to the bottom of it.”
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department announced the following road closures until Sunday morning:
- Eastbound Espola Road at Summerfield Lane
- Westbound Espola Road at Avenida Florencia
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