Poway, CA – An unarmed military veteran teamed up with an off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent to help end a mass-shooting rampage inside a Southern California synagogue on Saturday.
U.S. Border Patrol Agent Jonathan Morales and 51-year-old Iraq War Army veteran Oscar Stewart were inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue celebrating Passover, when 19-year-old John Earnest burst into the building armed with an AR-15-style weapon, The New York Times reported.
Wearing a tactical vest, sunglasses, and helmet, Earnest yelled anti-Semitic slurs, then opened fire.
Oscar Stewart, a 51-year-old Iraq War veteran who served four years in the U.S. Navy in explosive ordnance disposal before he enlisted in the Army due to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, immediately sprang into action, The Daily Caller reported.
“I was in the sanctuary, and I heard gunshots,” Stewart told reporters, according to USA Today.
“Everybody got up and started trying to get out the back door, so I — for whatever reason — I didn’t do that,” he explained to The Daily Caller. “I ran the other way. I ran towards the gunshots.”
Chabad of Poway worshipper Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, was fatally wounded when she jumped in front of the gunman’s bullets to shield Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein from the attack.
Goldstein was shot in both hands, and lost a finger as a result of his wounds, The New York Times reported.
Two other members of the congregation, Israeli nationals Almong Peretz and his nine-year-old niece, Noya Dahan, were injured by shrapnel, according to The Washington Post.
“I knew I had to be within five feet of this guy so his rifle couldn’t get to me,” Stewart explained, according to The Daily Caller. “So I ran immediately toward him, and I yelled as loud as I could.”
“Get down!” he ordered, according to his wife and other witnesses. “You mother–ker! I’m going to kill you!”
“I must have yelled very loud, and he looked at me, and I must have had a really mean look on my face or something, because he immediately dropped his weapon and turned and ran…And he was scared. I scared the hell out of him,” Stewart recalled. “The look on his face was one of amazement at first, and then one of fear.”
The gunman fled from the building, then jumped into his car and locked the doors to keep Stewart out.
“He saw me coming, and I was ready to do whatever I had to do to stop him,” he recalled.
The veteran pounded on car with his fists, and attempted to force his way into the vehicle to drag Earnest out.
“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 opened fire, 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.
Earnest has been charged with three counts of attempted murder and one count of murder, The New York Times reported.
Stewart said he reacted to the threat instinctively, and that he didn’t really realize what he had done until everything was over, The Daily Caller reported.
“Looking back, it was kind of a crazy idea to do, but I did it,” he said, adding that Agent Morales likely saved his life.
“It takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun,” Stewart said.
Stewart described Kaye as a “very loving woman,” and said that she was the true hero during the attack.
“She stood and she jumped in front of the shooter and she saved the rabbi’s life,” he reiterated. “When somebody said I was a hero, I’m like, she was a hero. I just did it instinctively, like an animal. There was no conscious decision. I just did it.”
“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.”
Investigators are also working to determine whether or not Earnest 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.