Alleged San Diego synagogue shooter had 50 rounds on him when arrested: Prosecutor
Mario Tama/Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) — The 19-year-old man who allegedly unleashed a barrage of gunfire on members of a Southern California synagogue was arraigned Tuesday afternoon as prosecutors released new details of the attack, including that the suspect had 50 rounds of ammunition on him when he was arrested.
A San Diego County prosecutor said in court that when the suspect, John T. Earnest, was arrested he was wearing a tactical vest containing five ammunition magazines, holding 50 bullets. He also said the entire rampage was caught on video.
One day after purchasing an AR-style assault rifle, Earnest, 19, allegedly stormed a Passover service at the Chabad of Poway near San Diego on Saturday, killing a member of the temple and wounding three others, including an 8-year-old girl, according to authorities.
He was arraigned Monday on one count of murder with a hate-crime special circumstance and gun allegations, and three counts of attempted murder with hate-crime and gun allegations. He was also arraigned on a charge of arson on a house of worship stemming from a fire he allegedly ignited at the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque in the San Diego County town of Escondido on March 24.
Not guilty pleas were entered on behalf of Earnest by his court appointed attorney, Deputy Public Defender John O’Connell.
Leonard Trinh, a San Diego County deputy district attorney, said in court that Earnest allegedly fired eight to 10 rounds before his gun malfunctioned.
He said synagogue member Lori Kaye, 60, was shot twice in the attack and killed.
Earnest, wearing glasses and a blue jail jumpsuit, showed no emotion during the arraignment and only answered “Yes,” when asked if he waived his right to a speedy trial.
If convicted of the charges, Earnest faces a sentence of life in prison without parole or death, a prosecutor said. A moratorium on the death penalty in California went into effect last month.
The judge ordered Earnest to be held in jail without bail, saying he is “an obvious and extraordinary risk to public safety.”
Earnest was ordered to return to court for a hearing on May 30. His preliminary hearing is set for July 8.
Earnest’s parents released a statement Monday saying they were “shocked and deeply saddened” by the attack.
“To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries,” the parents’ statement reads.
Just prior to the synagogue attack, Earnest allegedly posted a threatening letter filled with anti-Semitic and Islamophobic references online and wrote he was planning to livestream an attack, officials said. In the writings, he expressed white supremacist views and claimed responsibility for the mosque fire.
Federal Bureau of Investigation officials said they were alerted to the letter by an online tipster five minutes before Earnest burst into the Poway synagogue.
“The submission included a link to the post, but did not offer specific information about the post’s author or threat location,” the FBI said in a statement to ABC News. “Although FBI employees immediately took action to determine the post’s author, the shooting occurred before the suspect could be fully identified.”
The FBI is conducting an investigation of the synagogue attack and collecting evidence for possible federal hate crime charges against Earnest, officials said.
Kaye was a member of the synagogue and was fatally shot in the lobby while her husband and daughter were elsewhere in the building.
“I think Lori took the bullet for me and I think she took the bullet for the whole congregation,” Yisroel Goldstein, the rabbi of the synagogue, told ABC News.
Goldstein was shot in both hands during the attack. The index finger on his right hand was blown off and doctors managed to save the index finger on his left hand.
Also hurt in the rampage were 8-year-old Noya Dahan and her uncle, Almog Peretz, 34. Both suffered shrapnel wounds.
“I really don’t feel safe because this is not the first and definitely not the last time this is going to happen,” Dahan told ABC News. “So now I know just to watch out and stuff for dangerous things to happen.”
Rabbi Goldstein said the gunman’s assault rifle jammed during the attack and he was chased out of the synagogue by two members of the congregation, Oscar Stewart, 51-year-old military veteran, and an off-duty Border Patrol agent, who fired at the suspect’s car as it drove off.
A K-9 officer spotted Earnest fleeing the shooting. Authorities said Earnest, who wore a helmet mounted with a camera that malfunctioned and prevented him from livestreaming the attack, surrendered immediately and was placed under arrest.
Trinh said that prior to his arrest, Earnest called 911 and reported that he was armed.
Earnest, one of five children in his family who grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in San Diego County, is a pianist and was an honor student at Mt. Carmel High School, where his father is a teacher, according to ABC affiliate 10News. He was also a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Escondido.
In their statement, Earnest’s parents said their son was “raised in a family, faith, and community that all rejected hate and taught that love must be the motive for everything we do.”
“How our son was attracted to such darkness is a terrifying mystery to us, though we are confident that law enforcement will uncover many details of the path that he took to this evil and despicable act,” the parents’ statement reads. “To that end, our family is cooperating with investigators … Our hearts will forever go out to the victims and survivors. Our thanks go to the first responders who prevented even greater loss of life and the well-wishers who have supported us. And we pray for peace.”
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