Aggressive response to shooter prevented further casualties at California synagogue

“People need to know that we’re not sitting targets in synagogues,” Roneet Lev, a longtime Chabad of Poway congregant told the Journal. “We are going to protect ourselves.”

By Benjamin Kerstein, The Algemeiner

Quick thinking and an aggressive response from members at the California synagogue that was attacked by an anti-semitic gunman on Saturday likely prevented further casualties, according to emerging reports from the scene.

The shooting took place at a Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, where congregants were gathered to celebrate the last day of Passover. After the gunman opened fire, worshippers acted quickly, forcing him out of the synagogue.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus was the first to commend the congregants for acting against the shooter, saying, “I also understand from folks on the scene that this shooter was engaged by people in the congregation and those brave people certainly prevented this from being a much worse tragedy.”

The attacker was first confronted by the community’s spiritual leader Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein who encountered him in the hallway while preparing for the yizkor memorial prayer. After locking eyes with the shooter, Goldstein said he then lifted his hands to protect his face. The attacker then fired a couple of rounds, striking the rabbi’s fingers.

Shortly afterwards the shooting stopped and congregants moved quickly to usher children to safety and to confront the attacker.

“His gun jammed or he was reloading or something, and they rushed him and then he ran out,” Chabad spokesman Motti Seligson confirmed to The Algemeiner.

Congregant Oscar Stewart told the Wall Street Journal he ran to the hallway and saw the shooter standing with his AR-style rifle. “As he saw me, he dropped his weapon, turned and ran,” Stewart said. “He may have been trying to change a magazine, or he just panicked.”

As the suspect fled, the Wall Street Journal reported, congregants quickly retrieved a gun that was kept on the premises and gave it to a synagogue member who is an off-duty Border Patrol officer. The officer fired on the gunman, hitting his vehicle. He was pulled over by police shortly after and surrendered.

“People need to know that we’re not sitting targets in synagogues,” Roneet Lev, a longtime Chabad of Poway congregant told the Journal. “We are going to protect ourselves.”

Dr. Joshua Gleis, president of Gleis Security Consulting, which helps protect houses of worship, said of the incident, “People throw around the term ‘heroes’ a lot these days, but for everyday congregants and off-duty law enforcement to confront a surprise shooter in the middle of a Passover celebration truly is heroic. Their example should be noted when confronting similar threats around the world.”

“Armed guards should be part of the conversation, but a more active congregation that takes proactive steps with rings of security is critical to better protecting all houses of worship,” he added.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was mortally wounded in the shooting. Three other congregants were injured, including Rabbi Goldstein.

The suspect was identified as John Earnest, 19, of San Diego. Earnest reportedly left an antisemitic manifesto online and appears to have been a believer in white supremacist ideology.