POWAY, Calif. — Investigators believe the man who walked into a Poway synagogue Saturday morning and opened fire, killing one person and wounding others, is 19-year-old San Diego man John Earnest, Sheriff Bill Gore confirms.
The shooting happened at Congregation Chabad, on Chabad Way near Espola Road and Rancho Bernardo Road, around 11:30 a.m. Gore said a “white male adult … with an AR-type assault weapon” walked in to the synagogue and started shooting. About 100 people were inside at the time, according to Gore.
As the shooter fled the temple, an off-duty Border Patrol agent who had been inside the temple fired at his car, hitting the vehicle but not the driver, Sheriff Bill Gore said.
California Highway Patrol received a call from a man claiming to have carried out the attack and telling dispatchers where he was located. Around the same time, a San Diego police officer spotted a vehicle matching the suspect’s car in the area, Police Chief David Nisleit said.
A young man, later identified as Earnest, jumped out with his hands up and surrendered to the officer, Nisleit said. As the officer put Earnest in handcuffs, “he clearly saw a rifle” on the car seat.
Officers arrived at Earnest’s Rancho Peñasquitos home, where he apparently lived with his parents, a short time later. Around 3:20 p.m., officers cleared the cul-de-sac of anyone but residents and investigators. People were escorted to their homes and asked to shelter in place.
At the same time, Earnest was being questioned by investigators. Gore said that the FBI was working with local authorities to review a “manifesto” circulating online that may have been posted by the suspected shooter. Earnest had no prior criminal record.
Escondido police said they were investigating whether Earnest was also involved in an attack on the Islamic Center of Escondido from late March. In that case, an arsonist started a fire at the building and left graffiti referencing the deadly attacks at two mosques in New Zealand. Officials said evidence found online suggested the mosque arson and Saturday’s shooting were connected.
Earnest was a graduate of Mt. Carmel High School and his father is a longtime teacher at the school, Poway Unified School District confirmed. “Obviously our community is devastated by this attack, and we offer our deepest sympathies to the families affected by it,” administrators said.
Earnest attends Cal State San Marcos, the school announced online. “CSUSM is working collaboratively with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to assist and gain more information,” said school President Karen S. Haynes, Ph.D. “As a university community we know that our diversity make us stronger. Today’s reprehensible actions do not define us. They never will.”
Four people were wounded by the gunfire, including a woman who was pronounced dead a short time later. The other victims, an underage girl and two adult men, were being treated at Palomar Medical Center, according to San Diego County Sheriff’s officials. All three were expected to survive.
The attack came on the last day of Passover, and about six months after a deadly shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. In an emotional address Poway Mayor Steve Vaus called the attack a hate crime. “We will walk through this tragedy with our arms around each other,” he said, adding, “This is not Poway.”
A GoFundMe linked to a verified charitable organization is raising funds for the victims.