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. – A 19-year-old gunman opened fire in a synagogue in the neighborhood of San Diego as worshippers celebrated on the last day of an important Jewish holiday, killing a woman and wounding the rabbi and the two others Saturday, authorities said.
President Donald Trump and the other elected officials decried what they called an anti-Semitic attack exactly six months ago that 11 people were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest attack on Jews in the AMERICAN history.
There were indications that an AR-type assault weapon may be defective after the shooter, identified as John Serious, fired numerous rounds inside the Chabad of Poway, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said.
An off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard used against the shooter as he ran away, missing him but striking his getaway vehicle, San Diego County Sheriff William 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.
The sheriff said a girl and two men, including the rabbi, were injured when the Jewish community gathered for the Passover, a weeklong commemoration of the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. The three were in stable condition in the hospital.
Ernst has no criminal record, but investigators were looking into a claim that he was in an online manifesto about the setting of a fire in a mosque in the near Escondido last month, Gore said. There is damage, but no injuries.
Gore said authorities were reviewing copies of his social media posts and investigated the attack as a possible hate crime in the city of Poway is just 20 miles (32 km) north of San Diego.
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, told the media that 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.
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.”
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.”
He praised law enforcement “incredible response” and singled out the off-duty Border Patrol agent who “bravely responded to the fire and helped disrupt the attack and saved so many lives.”
The sheriff said the gun may not function properly.
The mayor of Poway, who tweeted that he got a call from the president to provide assistance, also denounced what he called a hate crime.
“I want you to know that this is not Poway,” Mayor Steve Vaus said. “We always have to walk with our arms around each other and we make a walk through this tragedy with our arms around each other.”
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.
Nguyen reported from San Francisco.