San Diego synagogue shooting: New video shows moment gunman opened fire, killing 1, injuring 3

KABC logo
Thursday, September 19, 2019

POWAY, Calif. -- Prosecutors are seeking a criminal trial for a 20 -year-old man accused of opening fire on a San Diego-area synagogue back in April, leaving one woman dead and three others injured, including a rabbi and an 8-year-old girl.

John Earnest was in a preliminary hearing in state court Thursday to determine whether he will stand trial for the attack on the last day of Passover at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in a a suburb about 30 minutes north of San Diego. The hearing was expected to last up to two days.

Prosecutors played surveillance video of the shooting, which shows Earnest jog up to the synagogue with an AR-15 assault rifle. He is seen opening fire even before he opens the door.

The only victim of the shooting, 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye, sees him and tries to flee before she is struck.

In the video, several congregants scramble for cover as Ernest continues to fire.

Earnest walked into the synagogue shortly before 11:30 a.m. and shot several rounds before appearing to struggle to reload the gun, officials said. An off-duty Border Patrol agent grabbed the handgun of a parishioner and fired at least four rounds as Earnest ran out the door.

"I believe he ran out of ammunition and he was trying to change the magazine when I was approaching him," said worshipper Oscar Stewart, who is seen in the footage chasing Earnest after he left the synagogue running.

After the video finished playing in court, Earnest glanced at the camera and then looked over his shoulder towards the audience and made the Shaka hand gesture, extending his pinky finger and thumb, according to ABC News.

Prosecutors were also expected to play a recording of a 20-year-old's call to an emergency dispatcher to try and convince the judge that he should be put on trial.

Earnest has pleaded not guilty to murder, attempted murder and arson tied to a mosque fire. The murder charge, classified as a hate crime, would make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted, but prosecutors have not said what punishment they will seek.

The San Diego college student called 911 as he sped away from the synagogue on April 27, saying, "I just shot up a synagogue," according to an affidavit filed in a separate case against him in federal court. He told the dispatcher that he thought he killed some people and that he did it "because Jewish people are destroying the white race."

Earnest told the dispatcher where he was, that he would surrender to authorities and leave his semi-automatic rifle in the car. Police arrested him without a struggle.

The suspect had tried weeks earlier to burn down a nearby mosque in Escondido, where seven people on a spiritual retreat were sleeping, according to the affidavit. They awoke to flames licking at the door and managed to extinguish the fire, which charred a wall.

Outside the mosque, the suspect had scrawled the name of the man accused of carrying out shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 51 people.

In online postings, Earnest said he was inspired by the New Zealand attack and the one last fall on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and boasted about how "easy" it is to burn down or shoot up a mosque, synagogue, immigration center, or "traitorous" politicians, according to court documents.

Authorities said Earnest frequented dark corners of the web that often post extremist, racist and violent views. In one posting, he said, "As an individual, I can only kill so many Jews."

Details in search warrants that were unsealed in July give the clearest indication yet that Earnest was inspired by the New Zealand attacks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.