FBI got tips about threat minutes before California synagogue shooting

About 100 congregants were worshipping at the Chabad of Poway near San Diego

A group of Poway residents bring flowers and cards to a memorial outside of the Chabad of Poway synagogue, Sunday, April 28, 2019, in Poway, Calif. A man opened fire Saturday inside the synagogue near San Diego as worshippers celebrated the last day of a major Jewish holiday. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy) (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

A group of Poway residents bring flowers and cards to a memorial outside of the Chabad of Poway synagogue, Sunday, April 28, 2019, in Poway, Calif. A man opened fire Saturday inside the synagogue near San Diego as worshippers celebrated the last day of a major Jewish holiday. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy) (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

The FBI said Monday that it received tips on a threatening social media post about five minutes before a gunman burst into a Southern California synagogue and opened fire with an assault-style rifle, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi and two others.

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

“The FBI thanks the alert citizens who saw and reported the post,” the agency said.

One of the tipsters told The Associated Press that he called the FBI tip line at 11:15 a.m. Saturday because the post linked to a manifesto that said the author was responsible for a mosque arson in the city of Escondido last month. He says he found online that the mosque attack had happened and feared the new threat was real.

The tipster, who refused to provide his name because of security concerns, said the call with the FBI lasted four or five minutes and the shooting happened soon after. He described the FBI as quick and professional and said he doesn’t know what they could have done.

The shooting happened around 11:30 a.m. Moments afterward, police arrested 19-year-old John T. Earnest of San Diego. He is being held on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.

READ MORE: Leaders struggle to make sense of fatal attack on California synagogue

The online manifesto written by a person identifying himself as John Earnest was an anti-Jewish screed posted about an hour before the attack. The poster described himself as a nursing school student and praised the suspects accused of carrying out 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.

About 100 congregants were worshipping at the Chabad of Poway near San Diego on the last day of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates freedom, when the gunman killed Lori Kaye, 60. He also wounded the synagogue’s rabbi, Yishoel Goldstein; Noya Dahan, 8; and her uncle Almog Peretz.

Goldstein said he was preparing for a service and heard a loud sound, turned around and a saw a young man wearing sunglasses standing in front of him with a rifle.

“I couldn’t see his eyes. I couldn’t see his soul,” Goldstein said. He raised his hands and lost one of his fingers in the shooting.

And then, Goldstein said, “miraculously the gun jammed.”

In the moments that followed, Goldstein said he wrapped his bloodied hand in a prayer shawl and addressed congregants gathered outside the building, vowing to stay strong in the face of the deadly attack targeting his community.

“We are a Jewish nation that will stand tall. We will not let anyone take us down. Terrorism like this will not take us down,” Goldstein recalled telling the community.

Authorities said Earnest had no previous contact with law enforcement and may face a hate crime charge in addition to homicide charges when he’s arraigned later this week. He was being held without bail, and it was unclear if he had an attorney.

Police searched Earnest’s house and said he was also being investigated in connection with an arson attack on a mosque in nearby Escondido, California, on March 24.

There were indications an AR-type assault weapon might have malfunctioned after the gunman fired numerous rounds inside, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said. An off-duty Border Patrol agent fired at the shooter as he fled, missing him but striking the getaway vehicle, the sheriff said.

Shortly after fleeing, Earnest called 911 to report the shooting, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said. When an officer reached him on a roadway, “the suspect pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody,” he said.

Goldstein described Kaye as a pioneering founding member of the congregation and said he was heartbroken by her death. He said the attack could have harmed many more people had the shooter turned toward the sanctuary where so many were praying.

“Lori took the bullet for all of us,” the rabbi said, his hands wrapped in bandages. “She didn’t deserve to die.”

He said that Kaye’s physician husband was called to tend to a wounded worshipper and fainted when he realized it was his wife.

Friends described Kaye as giving, warm and attentive to community members on their birthdays and when they were sick. A wife and mother, she loved gardening and made delicious challah for her family and friends, said Roneet Lev, 55.

When the gunfire erupted, another worshipper, Shimon Abitbul, said he immediately placed his 2-year-old grandson on the floor and waited for a break in the shooting to grab the boy and sprint away.

Abitbul, who was visiting from Israel and staying with his daughter and her family in Southern California, said he was still coming to grips with the carnage.

“All of us are human beings,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are Jews or Christians or Muslims.”

Peretz, who was wounded in the leg, said he turned around after hearing gunfire and saw the shooter standing by the door. He grabbed his niece by the hand and carried out another child.

He then saw a group of children and got them running, “I tell them, ‘go this way, go this way,” said Peretz, who is visiting from Israel.

Gore said authorities were reviewing Earnest’s social media posts, including what he described as a “manifesto.” There was no known threat after Earnest was arrested, but authorities boosted patrols at places of worship Saturday and again on Sunday as a precaution, police said.

“It was a hate crime, no doubt about it,” national security adviser John Bolton said on “Fox News Sunday.” He said investigators have not seen any connection between the suspect and other extremist groups.

California State University, San Marcos, confirmed that Earnest was a student who was on the dean’s list and said the school was “dismayed and disheartened” that he was suspected in “this despicable act.”

Goldstein said President Donald Trump called him to share condolences on behalf of the American people.

The White House acknowledged the call. “The President expressed his love for the Jewish people and the entire community of Poway,” Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.

On Sunday night, hundreds of people gathered at a park for a vigil to honour the victims.

People at the community park near Chabad synagogue in Poway held candles and listened to prayer in Hebrew. Leaders asked community members to do acts of kindness to remember Kaye.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said he would stand with the community, and Rabbi Goldstein said seeing the crowd come together provided consolation.

“What happened to us, happened to all of us,” Goldstein said.

Weber reported from Los Angeles and Balsamo reported from Washington. R.J. Rico in Atlanta, Elliot Spagat in Poway and Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Amy Taxin, Christopher Weber And Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

People gathering on a street corner hold signs in support of the victims of Saturday’s shooting at Chabad of Poway synagogue, Sunday, April 28, 2019, in Poway, Calif. A man opened fire Saturday inside the synagogue near San Diego as worshippers celebrated the last day of a major Jewish holiday. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

People gathering on a street corner hold signs in support of the victims of Saturday’s shooting at Chabad of Poway synagogue, Sunday, April 28, 2019, in Poway, Calif. A man opened fire Saturday inside the synagogue near San Diego as worshippers celebrated the last day of a major Jewish holiday. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

A couple holds candles during a vigil held for victims of the Chabad of Poway synagogue shooting, Sunday, April 28, 2019, in Poway, Calif. A man opened fire Saturday inside the synagogue near San Diego as worshippers celebrated the last day of a major Jewish holiday. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

A couple holds candles during a vigil held for victims of the Chabad of Poway synagogue shooting, Sunday, April 28, 2019, in Poway, Calif. A man opened fire Saturday inside the synagogue near San Diego as worshippers celebrated the last day of a major Jewish holiday. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Just Posted

Langley RCMP are looking for witnesses to an apparent shoot out between two vehicles in Langley City and Brookswood on Saturday morning. (Langley Advance Times files)
Shots fired between speeding cars in Brookswood, Langley City

One or both cars were firing shots at the other in the middle of the night

Township of Langley civic facility. (Langley Advance Times files)
Budget shortfall shrinking in Langley Township

Staff showed council a tightened up budget, without borrowing, on Monday

A Langley woman said she was shaken by the angry encounter. (Google Maps)
Woman shaken after belligerent encounter with unmasked man in Langley store

A man angry about vaccines berated a fellow shopper, a witness said

Jen Papageorge, 52, with her teenage daughters Keira and Talia are members of the Westcoast Harmony Chorus. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Dan Jansen VanDoorn, a Langley volleyball player and former TWU Spartan, was heading to Tokyo for with Team Canada. (Mark Janzen/Special to Black Press Media)
Langley volleyball player goes to Gatineau for National Excellence Program

Daniel Jansen Van Doorn was headed to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics before COVID-19 postponed the games

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

A child joins the Uke ‘n Play kickoff event at the Chilliwack Library on Oct. 1, 2016. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Events return, in virtual form, at Fraser Valley Regional Library

People can take part in ukulele jam, bullet journaling, reading groups and more

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

Most Read