A day after the synagogue he founded was attacked, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein recounted the events of the shooting that left one woman dead and three others injured.
The shooting occurred on Saturday at the Chabad of Poway synagogue prior to a scheduled Passover celebration.
The alleged shooter, 19-year-old John T. Earnest, was booked on one count of murder in the first degree and three counts of attempted murder in the first degree, according the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
The sheriff’s office said they believe the alleged shooter acted alone. The case is being investigated as a possible hate crime and federal civil rights violation.
Goldstein said he was preparing for his sermon on Saturday, the last day of Passover and one of the holiest days of the year, when he walked into the lobby and saw Lori Gilbert Kaye. Kaye was coming to the service to say a prayer for her mother, who recently died, Goldstein said at a press conference on Sunday.
“I walk into the banquet hall to wash my hands. I walked two, three footsteps when I hear a loud bang,” Goldstein said.
He said he thought Kaye may have fallen or the lobby table tipped over. Goldstein said he saw a young man standing there with a firearm.
The rabbi said he looked at the man, but “he had sunglasses on and I couldn’t see his eyes. I couldn’t see his soul. I froze.”
Goldstein says his first concern was for Kaye, a friend of his, who he had known for close to 25 years.
As he was trying to figure out what happened to Kaye, Goldstein said the gunman fired shots that hit his hands. Goldstein said after four hours of surgery on Saturday he lost one of his index fingers.
After being shot, Goldstein said he realized there were children playing in the banquet hall.
His voice breaking, Goldstein said, “I ran to gather them together. My granddaughter, four-and-a-half years old, sees her grandpa with a bleeding hand and she sees me screaming and shouting ‘Get out! Get out!’ She didn’t deserve to see her grandfather like this.”
With some of the children out, Goldstein says one man, Almog Peretz, went back in to help get additional children out, which included Peretz’s 8-year-old niece Noya Dahan. Peretz and Dahan were both injured and treated for their wounds. Goldstein said both were doing well and recovering on Sunday.
“Miraculously, just miraculously, the gun jammed,” Goldstein said. “And in attendance at the synagogue there was a border patrol, off-duty agent … who recently discovered his Jewish roots.”
That agent, Jonathan Morales, fired at the suspect’s car.
“After the shooter left — this terrorist left — I turned around to assess the situation,” the rabbi said. “I walk into the lobby and I see Lori lying the floor unconscious.”
Goldstein said Kaye’s husband was trying to resuscitate her, but fainted next to his wife.
Kaye was a pioneer for the congregation, Goldstein said.
He added, “For those of us that know Lori know that she is a person of unconditional love.”