POWAY, California — The parents of a 19-year-old college student suspected of attacking a Southern California synagogue said Monday that they are shocked and saddened that “he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries.”
John T. Earnest’s parents said they raised him and his five siblings in a family, faith and community that rejected hate.
“Our son’s actions were informed by people we do not know, and ideas we do not hold,” the parents said in a statement, which did not include their names.
A gunman on Saturday burst into the Chabad of Poway near San Diego on the last day of Passover and opened fire with an assault-style rifle, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi and two others.
“How our son was attracted to such darkness is a terrifying mystery to us, though we are confident that law enforcement will uncover many details of the path that he took to this evil and despicable act,” the statement said.
Earnest’s parents, who are cooperating with investigators, said their sadness “pales in comparison to the grief and anguish our son has caused for so many innocent people.”
Earll Pott, a family attorney who issued the statement, said the parents will not provide a legal defense for their son, who will likely be represented by a public defender. They asked for privacy.
In a manifesto apparently from Earnest posted online shortly before the attack, the shooter espouses anti-Semitic, white nationalist ideology and praises attacks on mosques in New Zealand and a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The shooting happened around 11:30 a.m., and Earnest surrendered moments afterward. He is being held on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.
On Sunday, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said there were indications an AR-type assault weapon may have malfunctioned, after Earnest fired numerous rounds inside the synagogue.
An off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard fired at the shooter as he ran away, missing him, but striking his getaway vehicle, Gore said.
Shortly after fleeing, Earnest called 911 to report the shooting, San Diego Police Chief David 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.”
Earnest has no criminal record, but investigators were looking into a claim he had made in an online manifesto about setting a fire at a mosque in nearby Escondido last month, in which there was damage but no injuries.
California State University, San Marcos, earlier confirmed that Earnest was a student on the dean’s list, and said the school was “dismayed and disheartened” that he was suspected in “this despicable act.”