The 19-year-old suspect in the San Diego synagogue shooting on Saturday had no previous encounters with police, was on the dean’s list at his local college where he studied nursing — and apparently posted a virulently anti-Semitic manifesto online shortly before he killed a female worshiper and injured several others, including a child, in a shooting spree.
John T. Earnest surrendered to police after bursting into Chabad of Poway, north of San Diego, on Saturday and opening fire with about 100 people inside. He killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, and injuring Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Noya Dahan, 8, and Almog Peretz, 34, authorities said.
Earnest, who had no previous contact with law enforcement, may be charged with a hate crime in addition to homicide, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said.
Earnest is also being investigated in connection with an arson attack on a mosque in nearby Escondido, California, on March 24.
Shortly after fleeing the synagogue, 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,” Nisleit said.
Police said an assault rifle was found in Earnest’s car when he was arrested. A Go-Pro camera was also found in the car, CBS reported, indicating he may have planned on filming the attack.
According to the San Diego Tribune, Earnest planned to film the shooting and screen it live on Facebook, though a source at the social media giant told the paper there was no evidence of such a video and an account linked to the manifesto was disabled after it was determined to be a fake profile.
Police raided a home believed to belong to Earnest’s family shortly after the shooting. Authorities say they believe he acted alone, according to CNN.
Gore said authorities were reviewing copies of his social media posts and were investigating the attack as a possible hate crime. The mayor of Poway said the attack was motivated by anti-Semitism.
“I want you know this is not Poway,” Mayor Steve Vaus said. “We always walk with our arms around each other and we will walk through this tragedy with our arms around each other.”
A person identifying himself as John Earnest posted an anti-Jewish screed online about an hour before the attack.
The poster described himself as a nursing school student and praised the suspects accused of carrying out deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand last month and at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue October 27.
The missive also voiced support for white nationalism.
The manifesto is similar to one posted on the same message board by Brenton Tarrant, a white supremacist who was behind the March 15 mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 people dead.
The hate-filled letter lauds Tarrant’s actions and that of the Pittsburgh shooter and claims responsibility for a fire at a mosque in California a week after the Christchurch shootings.
A colleague of Earnest’s father, who is a high school teacher, told the paper the suspected gunman was “charming, really impressive, and so sweet and nice.”
California State University, San Marcos, confirmed 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.”