Suspected Poway synagogue shooter faces 109 hate crime charges

SAN DIEGO -- Officials held a news conference Thursday to announce federal civil rights violations and hate crime charges for the man accused of arson at an Escondido mosque and the deadly shooting at a Poway synagogue.

Investigators say John T. Earnest, a 19-year-old from Rancho Penasquitos, referenced both attacks in a threatening post online moments before the shooting at Chabad of Poway that killed a woman and wounded three other people.

Earnest faces 109 counts total, including 54 counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion resulting in death and injury -- one for each of the people present in the synagogue at the time of the shooting. Each count is death penalty-eligible, federal officials said.

Fifty-four additional hate crime charges for violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and one charge of damage to religious property by use of fire, bring the total to 109.

U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer and San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan were joined at the conference by San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit, San Diego County Sheriff's Commander Pete Callewaert and representatives from the FBI, ATF and Escondido Police Department.

"We will not allow our community members to be hunted in their houses of worship, where they should feel free and safe to exercise their right to practice their religion," Brewer said. "Our actions today are inspired by our desire to achieve justice for all of the victims and their families."

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