Poway, CA – The rabbi who was among four people wounded in an attack at a Southern California synagogue on Saturday praised the off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent who engaged the shooter and helped end the threat.
Chabad of Poway Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein said he previously asked U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agent Jonathan Morales to bring his weapon to the Jewish house of worship whenever possible, The New York Times reported.
Goldstein said that Agent Morales often traveled over 200 miles round-trip from his home in El Centro to attend services at the synagogue.
“I had spoken to him in the past about coming to the synagogue armed because he’s trained, and I want trained security as much as possible,” said Goldstein, who was struck in both hands during the attack. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to have an armed security officer at every service, so whenever we had extra help, we were grateful for it.”
Agent Morales and the rest of the congregation were celebrating Passover on Saturday, when 19-year-old John Earnest burst into the synagogue armed with an “AR-15-style” weapon, The New York Times reported.
Donning in a tactical vest, sunglasses, and helmet, Earnest yelled anti-Semitic slurs, then opened fire.
“I couldn’t see his eyes,” Goldstein later told The Washington Post. “I couldn’t see his soul.”
Even after he began shooting, Goldstein attempted to speak to the gunman to convince him to stop the attack, The New York Times reported.
Undeterred, Earnest opened fire again.
Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, rushed towards the gunfire, and jumped in front of Goldstein to shield him from Earnest’s bullets.
She was fatally wounded by the rounds, and Goldstein was struck in both hands.
Two other members of the congregation, Israeli nationals Almong Peretz and his nine-year-old niece, Noya Dahan, were injured by shrapnel, The Washington Post reported.
Earnest’s gun then “miraculously jammed,” and his would-be victims began to chase him out of the synagogue, Goldstein said.
That’s when 51-year-old combat veteran Oscar Stewart – who served in both the U.S. Navy and the Army – rushed towards the gunman and chased him to his vehicle, The Daily Caller reported.
“While Mr. Stewart was near the vehicle, [the] off-duty Border Patrol Agent caught up to the vehicle and yelled for Mr. Stewart to get out of the way,” San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said in a statement to the New York Times.
“Stewart risked his life to stop the shooter and saved lives in the process,” the sheriff added.
Agent Morales returned fire during the attack, and was able to strike the gunman’s vehicle just before he sped away from the scene, Sheriff Gore said.
The suspect fled for his life and called 911 to say he was involved in a shooting, according to KFMB.
San Diego Sheriff’s Department deputies arrived and took the Earnest into custody at gunpoint.
“This shooter was engaged by people in the congregation and those brave people certainly prevented this from being a much worse tragedy,” Poway Mayor Steve Vaus announced during a press conference.
Goldstein lost a finger as a result of his gunshot wounds, and underwent surgery to prevent further loss of his hand, the New York Times reported.
“In my own interpretation, Lori took the bullet for all of us. She died to protect all of us,” Goldstein said during a press conference on Sunday, according to The Washington Post. “This is Lori. This is her legacy, and her legacy will continue.”
President Donald Trump told the press that based on the information he had, the attack appeared to be a hate crime.
“My deepest sympathies go to the families who were affected,” President Trump said. “It looks like the person has been apprehended, no more danger, and law enforcement has done a fantastic job.”
President Trump took to Twitter to thank Agent Morales.
“Sincerest THANK YOU to our great Border Patrol Agent who stopped the shooter at the Synagogue in Poway, California,” the President tweeted. “He may have been off duty but his talents for Law Enforcement weren’t!”
Earnest has been charged with three count of attempted murder and one count of murder, The New York Times reported.
Investigators are also working to determine whether or not he was the author of an anti-Semitic manifesto that was posted online shortly before the mass shooting.
The author of the manifesto also claimed responsibility for setting a fire at a nearby mosque in Escondido.