An eyewitness to the start of the fatal shooting attack Saturday at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue described to Israeli media on Sunday the moments when he saw the gunman approach the building and shoot congregant Lori Gilbert-Kaye.
Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was killed in the attack, and three people were injured, including the synagogue’s rabbi, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was shot in the hand.
Gil Pasternak, 18, a member of the congregation, told Israel’s Channel 13 news in a Hebrew-language interview that he had been sitting at the entrance to the synagogue building when he saw the gunman approaching; he was thus the first person in the synagogue to realize what was about to happen.
He said he witnessed the gunman firing at Gilbert-Kaye, who was standing nearby. “I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the woman standing there, Lori, fall. I saw the actual shot being fired,” he said. The gunman then shot her twice more, he said. “I was already running away and I didn’t look back.”
Pasternak said Gilbert-Kaye, a friend of the family, was “an incredibly nice woman.”
Some media reports have indicated that Goldstein was also near the entrance at the time, “speaking to a congregant in the lobby,” according to the New York Times, and Gilbert-Kaye has been reported to have shielded the rabbi.
Pasternak said he ran to hide in the nearest room and that the gunman “saw me and started to shout at me and curse and laugh.” The gunman took a few steps toward the room, and looked in, but “he didn’t know what desk I was hiding under” and went back, this time toward the main sanctuary. “He went into the synagogue itself… and [I could hear that he] fired six or seven more times.”
Pasternak said that a man he named as Yonatan opened fire on the killer. “To our great fortune, there was someone there with a gun. His name is Yonatan. He started to shoot at the terrorist, and apparently saved our lives,” Pasternak said.
He was apparently referring to Jonathan Morales, an off-duty Border Patrol agent who fired at the suspect as he drove away, hitting the car.
In comments quoted by the Israel National News website, Pasternak said: “I knew exactly what was happening, I heard screaming, I head a little girl scream, ‘Mommy, I’m afraid,’ I heard a woman screaming, ‘Oh my G-d, he shot her.’ Everyone ran away and hid, and fortunately I then began to hear shots from another gun. We had a security man in the synagogue [building], he scared the terrorist and the terrorist fled.”
Pasternak said in an i24News interview that his father was in the sanctuary at the time of the attack, and came to find him when the gunman had fled, and that he did not want to come out of hiding at first.
Goldstein and others have said that the automatic weapon used by the suspect, John Earnest, jammed after he had fired a few shots. “One of the miracles was that his gun jammed after the first six rounds,” Goldstein told the New York Post Sunday. Two men, the off-duty border-patrol agent and an ex-Marine, then “made a B-line for Earnest,” the New York Post reported. He then “took off,” the rabbi said.
Pasternak also recounted to Channel 13 that Goldstein, “with two fingers missing,” then insisted on speaking to the congregants, even as the ambulance crew “was pleading with him to get in.” The rabbi, he said, told us “we have to be together at this time. To love each other. And not to let these terrible things break us as a people.”
He also described efforts by Gilbert-Kaye’s physician husband to resuscitate her, while crying “It’s my wife, it’s my wife.” After several minutes, when he saw that his efforts were not succeeding, the husband fainted, Pasternak said.