Syn­a­gogue shooter had 50 bul­lets left when gun jammed

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY EL­LIOT SPAGAT AND JULIE WAT­SON


The man accused of at­tack­ing a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia syn­a­gogue fired only eight to 10 of the roughly 60 bul­lets he had be­fore his weapon jammed, prose­cu­tors said Tues­day.

John T. Earnest, 19, pleaded not guilty to charges of mur­der and at­tempted mur­der in the shoot­ing that hap­pened Satur­day dur­ing a Passover ser­vice at the Chabad of Poway syn­a­gogue. One woman was killed and three peo­ple wounded, in­clud­ing the rabbi.

Earnest was ar­rested shortly af­ter the at­tack with 50 un­fired bul­lets, a tac­ti­cal vest and hel­met, prose­cu­tors said dur­ing his ar­raign­ment.

At the hear­ing Tues­day in a San Diego County court­house, a be­spec­ta­cled Earnest stood be­hind a glass panel, wear­ing blue jail clothes and show­ing no ap­par­ent emo­tion. He ut­tered only one word – “yes” – to waive his right to a speedy pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing.

The judge sched­uled a sta­tus hear­ing for May 30 and de­nied bail, call­ing Earnest an ex­treme threat to pub­lic safety.

Earnest was an ac­com­plished stu­dent, ath­lete and mu­si­cian whose em­brace of white supremacy and anti-Semitism has dumb­founded his fam­ily and oth­ers who thought they knew him well.

He made the dean’s list both semesters last year as a nurs­ing stu­dent at Cal­i­for­nia State Uni

ver­sity, San Mar­cos. In high school, he had stellar grades, swam on the var­sity team and basked in the ap­plause of class­mates for his pi­ano so­los at talent shows.

Earnest ap­par­ently be­came rad­i­cal­ized some­time over the last two years. He is also charged with ar­son in con­nec­tion with an at­tack last month on a mosque in nearby Es­con­dido.

Owen Cruise, 20, saw Earnest ev­ery day dur­ing se­nior year at Mt. Carmel High School in San Diego when the two were in cal­cu­lus and physics to­gether. They were also both in the school’s am­a­teur ra­dio club.

Earnest’s pi­ano per­for­mances drew au­di­ences to their feet.

His fa­ther, John A. Earnest, is a pop­u­lar physics teacher at Mt. Carmel, where he has worked for 31 years.

“The way John T. acted is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive at all of the way he was raised,” Cruise said. “They are an out­stand­ing fam­ily. Some of the finest peo­ple I’ve ever met.”

The sus­pect’s par­ents said their son and five sib­lings were raised in a fam­ily that “re­jected hate and taught that love must be the mo­tive for ev­ery­thing we do.”

“To our great shame, he is now part of the his­tory of evil that has been per­pe­trated on Jewish peo­ple for cen­turies,” the par­ents said Mon­day in their first pub­lic com­ments. “Our son’s ac­tions were in­formed by peo­ple we do not know, and ideas we do not hold.”

The par­ents, who are co­op­er­at­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors, re­fused to pro­vide le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion to their son, and he was rep­re­sented by a pub­lic de­fender.

Earnest burst into the syn­a­gogue on the last day of Passover, a ma­jor Jewish hol­i­day that cel­e­brates free­dom, and opened fire with an as­sault-style ri­fle on the crowd of about 100.

He fled when the ri­fle jammed, ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties and wit­nesses, avoid­ing an Army com­bat veteran and an off-duty Bor­der Pa­trol agent who pur­sued him. He called 911 to re­port the shoot­ing and sur­ren­dered a short time later.

Lori Kaye , a found­ing mem­ber of the con­gre­ga­tion, was killed. Rabbi Yis­roel Gold­stein was shot in the hands, while Noya Da­han, 8, and her un­cle Al­mog Peretz suf­fered shrap­nel wounds.

Kaye, 60, was re­mem­bered for her kind­ness Mon­day at a memo­rial ser­vice at the packed syn­a­gogue in Poway, a well-to-do sub­urb north of San Diego.

An online writ­ing by a per­son iden­ti­fy­ing him­self as John Earnest and pub­lished shortly be­fore the at­tack spewed hatred to­ward Jews and praised the per­pe­tra­tors of at­tacks on mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 peo­ple last month and at Pitts­burgh’s Tree of Life syn­a­gogue that killed 11 on Oct. 27.

Earnest fre­quented 8chan, a dark cor­ner of the web where those dis­af­fected by main­stream so­cial me­dia sites of­ten post ex­trem­ist, racist and vi­o­lent views.

“I’ve only been lurk­ing here for a year and half, yet what I’ve learned here is price­less. It’s been an honor,” he wrote.

Earnest, who ev­i­dently in­tended to livestream the at­tack, said he had planned the at­tack for four weeks.

“If you told me even 6 months ago that I would do this I would have been sur­prised,” Earnest wrote.

The FBI said it got tips about a so­cial me­dia post threat­en­ing vi­o­lence against Jews about five min­utes be­fore the 11:30 a.m. at­tack.

The tips to an FBI web­site and hotline in­cluded a link to the anony­mous post but did not of­fer spe­cific in­for­ma­tion about its au­thor or the lo­ca­tion of the threat. The bureau said em­ploy­ees im­me­di­ately tried to de­ter­mine who wrote it, but the shoot­ing oc­curred be­fore they could es­tab­lish his iden­tity.


John T. Earnest, left, ap­pears for his ar­raign­ment hear­ing Tues­day in San Diego. Earnest faces charges of mur­der and at­tempted mur­der in the as­sault Satur­day on Chabad of Poway syn­a­gogue, which killed one woman.

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