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Leaders struggle to make sense of the deadly attack on synagogue

Heavily armed San Diego police approach a house thought to be the home of the 19-year-old John T., Ernst, who is a suspect in the shooting of several people in a Poway synagogue, on Saturday, April 27, 2019, in San Diego, California. A gunman with an AR-type assault weapon to shoot believers in Chabad of Poway, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said. (John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP)

POWAY, Calif. – The rabbi who led a service on the last day of the Passover suffered a gunshot wound to his hands and two others endured shrapnel wounds as the political, social and religious leaders in the country are struggling with the meaning of another deadly attack on a house of worship for six months after a massive shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

John T. Ernst, 19, surrendered to police after a crack in Chabad of Poway, north of San Diego on Saturday and opening fire with about 100 people inside, killing Lori Kayne, 60, and the wounding of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Noya Dahan, 8, and Almog Peretz, 34, authorities said.

Seriously, who had no contact with the police, can be charged with a hate crime in addition to murder, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said. Serious is also being investigated in connection with an arson attack on a mosque in the near Escondido, California, on March 24.

“Any time somebody goes into a house of worship and shoot the congregants, in my book, that is a hate crime,” Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said.

There were indications that an AR-type assault weapon may be defective after the gunman fired numerous rounds inside, Gore said. An off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard used against the shooter as he fled, missing him but striking his getaway vehicle, Gore said.

Shortly after the flight, Sincere called 911 to report the shooting, San Diego police chief David Nisleit said. When an officer reached him on a taxiway, “the defendant pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody,” Nisleit said.

Audrey Jacobs, a friend of the woman killed, said on Facebook that Kane was “taking bullets” for the rabbi to save his life and the rabbi continued to give his sermon after being shot.

Gore said authorities were reviewing copies of the Seriousness of the social media posts, including what he described as a “manifesto.”

A person who identify himself as John Seriously placed an anti-Jewish screed online about an hour before the attack. The poster described herself as a nursing school student and praised the suspects accused of carrying out deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand last month in Pittsburgh, and the Tree of Life synagogue, Oct. 27.

The California State University in San Marcos, confirmed Sincerely was a student on the dean’s list and said the school was “stunned and saddened” that he was suspected in “this despicable act.”

There was no known threat after Severe was arrested, but the authorities have reinforced patrols on the places of worship as a precaution, police said.

Minoo Anvari, a member of the synagogue, said her husband was during the shooting. She said that he called to tell her that the shooter was shouting and cursing.

She called the shooting “unbelievable” in a quiet and close-knit community. “We are strong; you can’t break us,” Anvari said.

Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, executive director of Chabad of San Diego County, said that “in the face of senseless hatred, we commit to live proudly as Jews in this wonderful country. We believe that love is exponentially more powerful than hate. We are deeply shocked by the loss of a true woman of valor, Lori Kaye, who lost her life only for the life as a Jew.”

Donny Phonea, who lives on the other side of the street of the synagogue, turned off his drill and heard someone shouting: “Police!” He then heard three or four shots.

The 38-year-old bank accountant looked over his backyard fence to the synagogue and saw people hiding behind an electrical box in the parking lot of a neighboring church. At that moment, he knew that there was something “very, very wrong,” went inside and closed the doors and garage.

“I’m a little surprised,” said Phonea, who moved to Poway two weeks ago. “I moved here, because safety was a factor. Poway is very safe.”

President Donald Trump offered his sympathies Saturday, saying the shooting “looked like a hate crime.”

“Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, pray for the injured and stand in solidarity with the Jewish community,” Trump said later during a meeting in Wisconsin. “We vigorously condemn the evil of anti-semitism, and the hatred, which must be defeated.”

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said he joins the community in grief.

“No one should be afraid to go to their place of worship, and no one should be targeted for the practice of the tenets of their faith,” he said.

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Nguyen reported from San Francisco.

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