Wounded rabbi fights back tears recalling synagogue shooting

POWAY, Calif. -- The rabbi wounded in a Poway synagogue shooting fought back tears recalling events that occurred at his place of worship on the final day of Passover.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, 57, remembers walking into a banquet hall Saturday at Congregation Chabad when he heard a loud bang.

At the time, he did not believe the bang was a gunshot, but rather, thought Lori Kaye, the shooting victim who did not survive had fallen to the ground.

He turned around and saw a scene that was "indescribable," he said.

Soon after, he saw a "young man standing with a rifle point right at me." Goldstein said the young man was wearing sunglasses and could not see into his eyes or his soul.

The suspected shooter was identified by investigators as 19-year-old John T. Earnest. Earnest was a student at Cal State San Marcos and was reportedly on the Deans List.

Also in the banquet hall were Goldstein's 4-year-old granddaughter, along with numerous other children. He became visibly upset recounting the moment his granddaughter saw him with a bloody hand. Goldstein confirmed after 4 hours of surgery,  he lost the index finger on his left hand when he lifted up his hands to protect himself from gunfire.  He thanked the doctors who conducted that surgery.

He also thanked off-duty border agent Jonathan Morales and war veteran Almong Peretz  who sprung into action to save the congregation members.

He explained Morales, who recently discovered his Jewish roots, drove hours from El Centro to attend his service.

One of Goldstein's most difficult as he spoke to the media was talking about longtime member, Kaye. He described her as "kind and sweetheart," and that her heroic act to save him was reflective of the type of person she was.

Kaye once worked for Wells Fargo and helped the synagogue secure a loan for the building in the 1990s, Goldstein said.

He also recounted the moment Kaye's husband fainted attempting to resuscitate her and that their daughter, Hannah, ran out screaming and witnessed her parents on the synagogue floor.

Goldstein called Earnest a "terrorist," and that the Jewish community will not allow terrorism to take them down.

Goldstein left his hometown of Brooklyn to move to Poway shortly after he wed. He said Poway was the safest place for him to be and continues to feel that way.

"I hope we can grow from this," Goldstein repeatedly said.

He also thanked President Donald Trump for his phone call. It was the first time he interacted with a U.S. President and thanked Trump for their phone call that lasted between 10-15 minutes.

Earnest is set to be arraigned Wednesday.

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