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Suspected Poway Synagogue Shooter Unleashed Anti-Semitic Diatribe In 911 Call

Suspected Poway synagogue shooter John T. Earnest, 20, turned to the gallery,...

Credit: Image provided to KPBS via pool video

Above: Suspected Poway synagogue shooter John T. Earnest, 20, turned to the gallery, which included several members of the congregation, and did the "shaka" sign, commonly known as "hang loose," right after the surveillance video from the shooting was shown inside the courtroom on Sept. 19, 2019.

A man accused of opening fire at a Poway synagogue, killing one congregant and injuring several others, told police he committed the shooting because the Jewish people were destroying the white race, according to a 911 recording played in court Thursday.

"They're destroying our people. I'm trying to show them that we're not going to go down without a fight," John T. Earnest, 20, told a dispatcher when he called 911 minutes after the April 27 shooting at Chabad of Poway. "I'm defending my nation against the Jewish people, who are trying to destroy all white people."

On the 911 call, a recording of which was played in court during the hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial, Earnest told a dispatcher he was armed but would not use his weapon on officers.

The most shocking moments came when prosecutors showed the surveillance video from the security cameras at the synagogue. The video shows a man with a weapon entering the synagogue and opening fire and the people scrambling and ducking for safety.

After the video was shown, the defendant looked at the camera, then turned to the gallery, which included several members of the congregation, and did the "shaka" sign, commonly known as "hang loose."

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Earnest faces murder and attempted murder charges stemming from the shooting. He is also charged with arson for the March 24 blaze at the Dar-ul- Arqam Mosque, also known as the Islamic Center of Escondido.

In court Thursday, Presiding Judge Peter C. Deddeh heard evidence from seven police and civilian witnesses, with one of the injured shooting victims slated to testify Friday morning. Deddeh is expected to rule Friday whether Earnest will stand trial on the charges, which include a special circumstance hate crime allegation that could lead to the death penalty. The San Diego County District Attorney's Office has not yet decided whether to pursue capital punishment.

The defendant, who's being held without bail, is accused of carrying out the shooting on the last day of Passover, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye, who was shot twice in the synagogue's foyer and died at a hospital. Kaye, a longtime member of Chabad of Poway, was at the temple with her husband and daughter the day of the shooting to honor her mother, who had recently died.

The congregation's rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, 57, lost a finger in the shooting. Two other people -- Almog Peretz, 34, and his 8-year-old niece, Noya Dahan -- were also injured.

One of the congregants, Oscar Stewart, was at the synagogue that morning with his wife and stepdaughter.

"It was chaos," Stewart said, describing the scene after four shots rang out from the lobby, sending congregants screaming and fleeing toward the exits.

Stewart said he ran toward the gunshots and saw Earnest firing, then apparently running out of ammo and stopping to reload.

Having previously served in the Navy and Army — including two tours in Iraq — Stewart said he rushed at the shooter and yelled that he was going to kill him in an effort to distract the assailant. Earnest then fled out the front doors, with Stewart and several other congregants in tow.

RELATED: Warrants Unveil New Details In Poway Synagogue Shooting

Jonathan Morales, an off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard, told Stewart to fall back because Morales was armed. Morales fired four to five shots at Earnest's Honda Civic -- striking the car once -- as the defendant quickly made a U-turn on Chabad Way and sped off.

Stewart testified that he returned to the synagogue after Earnest fled and began performing CPR on Kaye, who was facedown in the lobby. Her husband, Dr. Howard Kaye, assisted in the medical efforts, but did not initially realize the wounded woman was his wife, Stewart said. When he finally recognized her, Stewart said Howard Kaye "let out a groan, then he fainted."

San Diego police officer Jonathan Wiese testified that he arrested Earnest, who was inside his stopped car on West Bernardo Drive.

Earnest exited the car, then asked Wiese, "How's your day going?" and later asked the officer if he knew "what the Jews have done to our race?"

A receipt found in Earnest's car showed he purchased the rifle at San Diego Guns on April 13, the same day a California Fish and Wildlife card located in his bedroom showed he completed a hunting program, qualifying him for a hunting license. However, the license -- which would allow someone in California under 21 to purchase a gun -- was not valid until July 1.

Earnest allegedly admitted to both the shooting and the mosque fire in an online open letter in which he espouses flagrant anti-Semitic sentiments and a need to protect the "European race."

In the "open letter" that authorities say Earnest posted online shortly before the shooting, the author wrote that he spent four weeks planning the attack, citing his "disgust" for Jews and a desire to kill them, and expressed admiration for the Australian white nationalist who attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, killing 50 people.

The writer also claimed responsibility for the March 24 blaze, which was quickly extinguished by people inside the mosque. Graffiti left in the mosque's parking lot paid tribute to the Christchurch shooter.

Surveillance footage allegedly captured a suspect arriving at the mosque in the same type of vehicle in which Earnest was captured on the day of the synagogue shooting.

In addition to the state case, Earnest also faces more than 100 federal counts related to hate crimes. He could also face the death penalty in the federal case.

Listen to this story by Priya Sridhar.

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