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FBI got tip minutes before California synagogue attack

The FBI says it got tips about a threatening social media post about five minutes before a deadly attack on a synagogue near San Diego on Saturday, but it was too late to identify the suspect.

Employees acted immediately, but it was too late, bureau says

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, right, is hugged as he leaves a news conference at the Chabad of Poway synagogue on Sunday 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. (Denis Poroy/Associated Press)

The FBI said it got tips about a social media post threatening violence against Jews just minutes before a gunman killed a worshipper and wounded three others at a Southern California synagogue — an attack that makes him "part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries," the suspect's family said Monday.

The tips to an FBI website and hotline 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.

John T. Earnest, 19, was charged with murder and attempted murder in Saturday's attack as well as arson in connection with a nearby mosque fire last month. He was expected in court Tuesday.

His parents said their son and five siblings were raised in a family that "rejected hate and taught that love must be the motive for everything we do." They said they were shocked and mystified.

"Our son's actions were informed by people we do not know, and ideas we do not hold," the family said in its first public comments.

They said they were co-operating with investigators to help "uncover many details of the path that he took to this evil and despicable act." They do not plan to provide their son with legal representation, according to their attorney, Earll Potts. A public defender will likely be appointed.

Heavily armed San Diego police officers approach a house thought to be the home of 19 year-old John T. Earnest, who is a suspect in the shooting of several people in a Poway, Calif., synagogue, on Saturday. (John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune/Associated Press)

The gunman burst into the Chabad of Poway synagogue Saturday on the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday that celebrates freedom, and opened fire with an assault-style rifle on the crowd of about 100.

Lori Kaye, a founding member of the congregation, was killed. Rabbi Yishoel Goldstein was shot in the hand, while Noya Dahan, 8, and her uncle Almog Peretz suffered shrapnel wounds.

Kaye, 60, was remembered for her kindness Monday at a memorial service at the packed synagogue in Poway, a well-to-do suburb north of San Diego.

Online manifesto

The shooter fled when the gun jammed, calling 911 to report the shooting and surrendering a short time later, authorities said.

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.

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.

A group of Poway residents bring flowers and cards to a memorial outside of the Chabad of Poway synagogue on Sunday in Poway, Calif. (Denis Poroy/Associated Press)

And then, Goldstein said, "miraculously, the gun jammed."

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."

Homicide, hate crime charges

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, Calif. 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, a man 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.

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.

Vigil honours victims

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 U.S. 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.

People of various faiths joined members of the Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church in a candlelight vigil for the Chabad of Poway synagogue shooting victims at the Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church in San Diego on Saturday. (Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune/Associatedd Press)

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.

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