One person was killed and three more were injured when a gunman opened fire inside a Chabad synagogue outside of San Diego, California, during services Saturday morning, authorities said.
A man was detained and authorities boosted patrols at places of worship as a precaution, police in Poway, California, said, exactly six months after a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue killed 11 people in the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.
Authorities identified the fatality as an older woman who had been at the synagogue and succumbed to her wounds in the shooting. Police said the gunman, named as John Earnest, used an AR-style assault weapon.
A female minor and two male adults, including a rabbi, were also injured but were in stable condition, according to authorities.
“Rabbi is in surgery after suffering defensive wounds to his index fingers. 34-year-old man and minor patient were hit by shrapnel from bullets. They’re doing well,”‘ the San Diego Sheriff’s Office said.
Synagogue members walk outside of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue Saturday, April 27, 2019, in Poway, Calif. (AP/Denis Poroy)
Officials said San Diego County deputies were called just before 11:30 a.m. Four patients were admitted to Palomar Health Medical Center Hospital around 12:30 p.m., spokesman Derryl Acosta said.
Authorities identified the shooting suspect, 19, as a white male from San Diego. Investigators were reviewing his social media activity and establishing the legitimacy of an open letter published online rife with anti-Semitic themes and which said the shooter was inspired by an attack last month on a mosque in New Zealand.
“We have copies of his social media posts and his open letter and we’ll be reviewing those to determine legitimacy of it and how it plays in to the investigation,” San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said.
Gore told a press conference that police were called shortly before 11:30 am after the man entered the synagogue and opened fire with an “AR-15 type” weapon. AR-15 assault rifles have been used in many mass shootings in the United States.
An off-duty border patrol officer who was at the scene fired at the suspect as he fled and struck his car, Gore said.
The man was eventually apprehended by a K-9 officer who had been monitoring dispatch radio and raced to the scene, added San Diego chief of police David Nisleit.
“He clearly saw the suspect’s vehicle, the suspect jumped out with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody by the San Diego police department.
“As the officer was placing this 19-year-old male into custody, he clearly saw a rifle on the front passenger seat of the suspect vehicle. The suspect was taken into custody without further incident.”
The shooting came as the synagogue was hosting a celebration for the last day of Passover.
Some 100 congregants were in the synagogue at the time of the shooting, according to sheriff’s Sgt. Aaron Meleen.
“As you can imagine, it was an extremely chaotic scene with people running everywhere when we got here,” he told the LA Times.
Minoo Anvari told the local CNN affiliate that her husband was inside the synagogue during the shooting.
“Just one message from all of us from our congregation that we are standing together,” she said. “We are strong. You can’t break us. We are all together.”
Reports indicated that one of those injured was Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading services at the time. According to an eyewitness, Goldstein was shot in the hand but continued to try to calm the gunman and worshipers.
Synagogue members stand outside of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue Saturday, April 27, 2019, in Poway, Calif. (AP/Denis Poroy)
Goldstein, the rabbi emeritus of the synagogue, founded the center with his wife Devorie Goldstein in 1986 as a place where “traditional Jewish values are brought to life in a joyous, non-judgmental atmosphere,” according to the Chabad center’s website.
Donny Phonea, who lives across the street from the synagogue, turned off his power drill and heard someone shout, “Police!” Then he heard three or four shots.
The 38-year-old bank auditor looked over his backyard fence facing the synagogue and saw people hiding behind an electrical box in the parking lot of a neighboring church. At that point, he knew something was “very, very wrong,” went inside and closed his doors and garage.
“I’m a little taken aback,” said Phonea, who moved to Poway two weeks ago. “I moved here because safety was a factor. Poway is very safe.”
Poway is just over 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of San Diego.
Vaus told CNN he understood the crime was hate-motivated.
“I have heard that this was definitely someone with hate in their heart. Hate towards our Jewish community,” he said. “This simply will not stand.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said no Israelis were believed to have been hurt in the shooting. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the Israeli consul in Los Angeles and instructed him to offer whatever aid was necessary to the Chabad synagogue, his office said.
US President Donald Trump and others offered thoughts, prayers and condolences over the attack.
“Looks like a hate crime. Hard to believe,” Trump told reporters when asked about the attack.
Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog said his organization was “following the reports with concern, praying for a quick recovery for the injured and lamenting the loss of life.”
“An attack on anyone worshiping at a house of prayer is completely immoral and this phenomenon must be battled severely anywhere in the world.”
Vaus told CNN the Poway Chabad was “very well secured,” without providing details.
Most synagogues around the country have ramped up security since a gunman opened fire inside Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, killing 11 people, on October 27.
Robert Bowers, facing a 63-count indictment for the attack, allegedly said he wanted to “kill Jews” during the shooting. According to authorities, Bowers expressed strong anti-Semitic views over the internet ahead of the attack.
The shooting added to fears about a resurgence of far-right extremists and neo-Nazis across the country.