Gunman told 911 ‘I just shot up a synagogue’ after Poway attack
John Earnest: As an individual, I can only kill so many Jews

Gunman told 911 ‘I just shot up a synagogue’ after Poway attack

Unsealed federal affidavit details how the shooter killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye, fled after he failed to reload his rifle, called police to surrender

A San Diego county sheriff's deputy stands in front of the Poway Chabad Synagogue in Poway, California, April 28, 2019, after a shooting. (AP /Denis Poroy)
A San Diego county sheriff's deputy stands in front of the Poway Chabad Synagogue in Poway, California, April 28, 2019, after a shooting. (AP /Denis Poroy)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — As the 19-year-old college student sped away in his 2012 Honda Civic, he dialed 911 and said: “I just shot up a synagogue.”

He told the dispatcher that he thought he had killed some people and that he did it “because Jewish people are destroying the white race.”

The chilling account in a federal affidavit unsealed Thursday was the most detailed yet of a gunman’s attack on a Southern California synagogue that killed a woman and wounded three others during Passover service last month in the San Diego suburb of Poway.

It describes a deeply disturbed man filled with hatred who claimed to be inspired by the attacks on the mosques in New Zealand and the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue last fall.

A photo of Lori Gilbert-Kaye at the Chabad of Poway, California, May 3, 2019. (Gabrielle Birkner/JTA)

The Department of Justice filed 109 hate crime and other charges against the suspect, John T. Earnest, who could face the death penalty. The federal charges include murder for the killing of 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was hit twice as she stood in the foyer of the synagogue. It also includes charges for the attempted murder of 53 others.

United States attorney Robert S. Brewer speaks during a news conference Thursday, May 9, 2019, in San Diego. Federal officials announced that they have filed 109 hate crime charges against the man suspected of opening fire in a Southern California synagogue and said he called a 911 dispatcher afterward to report that he had done it to “defend my nation” against the Jewish people. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

In a court appearance last month, Earnest pleaded not guilty to state charges of murder and attempted murder and in a separate case to an arson charge tied to a mosque fire.

During the 911 call, Earnest said he killed because he was “trying to defend my nation from the Jewish people … They’re destroying our people,” according to the affidavit.

He then told the dispatcher where he was at, that he would surrender to authorities and leave his semi-automatic rifle in the car. He also said he was wearing a chest rig with additional ammunition, which the dispatcher asked him to remove.

Shortly after that, police arrested Earnest.

Police would later learn it was not the first attack on a house of worship by the suspect, according to the affidavit.

The nursing student and gifted pianist had tried weeks earlier to burn down a nearby mosque in Escondido, where seven people on a spiritual retreat were sleeping, according to the affidavit. They awoke to flames licking at the door and managed to extinguish the fire, which charred a wall.

Outside the mosque, the suspect had scrawled the name of the man accused of carrying out shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people.

John T. Earnest appears for his arraignment hearing Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in San Diego. Earnest faces charges of murder and attempted murder in the April 27 assault on the Chabad of Poway synagogue, which killed one woman and injured three people, including the rabbi. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP, Pool)

In his online postings, Earnest said he was inspired by those attacks and the one last fall on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and boasted about how “easy” it is to burn down or shoot up a mosque, synagogue, immigration center, or “traitorous” politicians, according to court documents.

A copy of the web posting of the New Zealand suspect Brenton Tarrant was found on his laptop, authorities say.

A month after his failed attempt to burn down the mosque, authorities say, Earnest bought an AR-15 rifle from a licensed dealer in San Diego.

The next day, a Saturday, marked the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday.

Just as the service was getting started, Earnest pulled up to the synagogue in his Honda Civic and walked in firing his AR-15, which was fully loaded with a 10-round magazine.

Kaye fell to the ground. Then Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading the service, was shot as he rushed to get the children out, including his own grandchildren.

Also hit by shrapnel were an 8-year-old girl and her uncle.

Noya Dahan, an Israeli girl injured in a shooting at a US Chabad synagogue in Poway, California on April 27, 2019. (Courtesy)

The shooter emptied his magazine and stopped as he struggled to reload it, according to the affidavit. That’s when several members of the congregation, including an off-duty Border Patrol agent, chased Earnest from the synagogue.

His family has said they will not pay for his defense and that he represents none of the values they taught him and are stunned at his embrace of white supremacy.

Authorities said Earnest frequented dark corners of the web that often post extremist, racist and violent views. In his online postings, he said, “As an individual, I can only kill so many Jews.”

The Chabad of Poway applauded the federal charges Thursday but said more must be done to prevent people from being led astray by such hatred.

“We are grateful to our country’s dedicated law enforcement authorities for taking the appropriate measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its citizens,” the synagogue said in a statement. “As a society we must surely focus on the preventive measure of instilling in our youth a sense of personal accountability to a Higher Being, in whose image every human being was created.”

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