1 woman killed, 3 people injured in shooting at California synagogue

A gunman opened fire in a San Diego-area synagogue with an assault-style weapon on Saturday, killing one woman inside and wounding three other worshippers in a hate crime carried out on the last day of Passover, authorities said.

Suspect John Earnest, 19, in custody after what authorities called a 'hate crime' attack

People react outside of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway, Calif., on Saturday following a shooting that authorities are calling a hate crime. (Denis Poroy/Associated Press)

A gunman opened fire in a San Diego-area synagogue with an assault-style weapon on Saturday, killing one woman inside and wounding three other worshippers in a hate crime carried out on the last day of Passover, authorities said.

The suspect, who fled the scene by car but surrendered to police a short time later, was identified by authorities as John Earnest, 19, of San Diego, the apparent author of a "manifesto" who claimed to have set a nearby mosque on fire last month and professed drawing inspiration from the gunman who killed nearly 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said police and FBI were investigating Earnest's "possible involvement" in an unsolved predawn arson on March 24 at the Islamic Center of Escondido, a town about 24 km north of the synagogue attacked on Saturday. No one was hurt at the mosque fire.

Gore said Earnest had "no prior criminal record."

The gun violence at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in the town of Poway, Calif., about 37 kilometres north of downtown San Diego, unfolded six months to the day after 11 worshippers were killed and six others were wounded by a gunman who stormed a synagogue in Pittsburgh yelling, "All Jews must die." The assailant in that incident was arrested.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, speaking from a police command center, characterized Saturday's shooting as a "hate crime," saying his assessment was based on statements uttered by the gunman when he entered the synagogue.

Speaking with reporters at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump said, "My deepest sympathies go to the people that were affected." He added that "it looks like a hate crime" and that authorities will "get to the bottom of it."

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore told reporters that four people were struck by gunfire and taken to Palomar Medical Center, where one of the victims, an "older woman," died. The three other patients — "two adult males" and a "female juvenile" —  were listed in stable condition, Gore said.

'You can't break us'

The bloodshed unfolded shortly before 11:30 a.m. local time in Poway, a suburb of about 50,000 residents, when the suspect walked into the synagogue and started shooting, Gore said. He was arrested a short time later when he peacefully surrendered to police.

A San Diego officer was en route to the shooting scene when he overheard a California Highway Patrol (CHP) radio dispatch "of a suspect who had called into CHP to report that he was just involved in this shooting and his location," San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit recounted.

"The officer was actually on the freeway and he clearly saw the suspect in his vehicle. The suspect pulled over and jumped out of his car with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody," Nisleit said.

He said the assault-style rifle believed to be the murder weapon was found on the front passenger seat of the car.

Local television channel KGTV 10News said the synagogue was hosting a holiday celebration beginning at 11 a.m. and due to culminate in a final Passover meal at 7 p.m. Authorities said about 100 people were inside the synagogue at the time.

The congregation of the synagogue was celebrating the last day of Passover when a gunman opened fire inside the temple in Poway, near San Diego, Calif., killing one person and injuring three others, including a rabbi. (Denis Poroy/Associated Press)

San Diego television station KGTV reported a woman whose husband was still inside the synagogue as saying the victims included the rabbi.

Minoo Anvari, an Iranian refugee whose husband was attending services inside when gunshots rang out, told KUSI-TV the wounded included a female friend and the rabbi, who was shot in the hand.

"We are united. You can't break us. We are in the U.S.," Anvari told KUSI.

A man who lives nearby, Christopher Folts, said on CNN he heard six to seven gunshots, then a man yelling, followed by six to seven more shots.

Cantor Caitlin Bromberg of Ner Tamid Synagogue, down the street from the shooting scene, said her congregation learned of the shooting at the end of their Passover services and that they were heading to Chabad of Poway to show support and help. 

"We are horrified and upset, and we want them to know we are thinking of them," Bromberg told The Los Angeles Times, adding that she has not heard from Chabad of Poway leadership because they would not normally use the phone during the Sabbath.

"They would only do that on emergency basis, if they do it at all," Bromberg told the newspaper.