Rabbi hails heroes who chased off Poway synagogue gunman: 'Terrorism, evil will never prevail'

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Monday, April 29, 2019
Rabbi recounts synagogue shooting: 'Terrorism, evil will never prevail'
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein recounts the fatal shooting at Chabad of Poway during a news conference on April 28, 2019.

POWAY, Calif. -- The rabbi of a California synagogue that was the scene of a mass shooting mourned the loss of a worshipper and hailed the actions of heroes who put themselves in harm's way to protect others.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein detailed the events of Saturday morning in an emotional press conference outside the synagogue Sunday afternoon. Goldstein was preparing for his sermon when he heard a loud bang. He walked out into the temple's lobby, where he encountered the gunman and worshipper Lori Kaye, who had been fatally shot.

Kaye and her family had come to the service on the last day of Passover to honor the memory of her mother, who had recently passed away. Goldstein described Kaye as a longtime friend who went out of her way to help those in need, adding that Kaye helped the synagogue secure a loan for their building in the early 90s.

Community members are in mourning after a gunman opened fire at a Poway, Calif. synagogue, killing one person and wounding three others.

The gunman, identified by authorities as John Earnest, then pointed his gun directly at Goldstein in the lobby. He opened fire, hitting Goldstein in the hand.

"I turned around and I saw the children that were playing in the banquet hall. I ran to gather them together," Goldstein said. "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.'"

The gunman continued to fire as Goldstein and Almog Peretz tried to usher children to safety. Peretz was shot in the leg by bullet shrapnel, and 8-year-old Noya Dahan was hit in her leg and on her face. Both are recovering at home.

The gunman's firearm then jammed, Goldstein said, Oscar Stewart and off-duty Border Patrol agent Jonathan Morales chased off the gunman. Stewart tried to tackle the gunman, and Morales fired after the gunman as he fled the building.

Morales' gunfire did not hit the gunman, though Morales did manage to hit the gunman's car.

"After this terrorist left, I turned around to assess the situation. I'm walking through the lobby and I see Lori laying on the floor unconscious and her dear husband, Dr. Howard Kaye...is trying to resuscitate her," Goldstein continued. "He faints and he's lying there on the floor next to his wife. And then their daughter Hannah comes up screaming.....it was the most heart-wrenching sight I could have seen."

"I was frozen in time," Goldstein remarked. "I grabbed a prayer shawl, wrapped my arms, my fingers in it that were hanging, dangling and bleeding all over the place. My congregation was gathered around, and I said, 'I've got to do something.' I got up on a chair...and I looked at our congregation, and I said...'We are a Jewish nation that will stand tall. We will not let anyone or anything take us down.'"

Authorities have identified the suspect in a deadly shooting at a synagogue in San Diego County as John Earnest.

Kaye was taken to a Palomar Medical Center Escondido, where she later died of her injuries. Goldstein, Peretz and Dahan were also hospitalized but were released by Sunday morning.

"Lori took the bullet for all of us. She died to protect all of us. She didn't deserve to die," Goldstein said through tears. "She's such a kind, sweet-hearted human being. She didn't deserve to die right in front of my eyes."

Despite Kaye's death, Goldstein said the situation could have been much worse had the gunman's weapon not jammed. The gunman, Goldstein said, also never entered the sanctuary, which was full with more than a hundred worshippers.

Goldstein called on the community to reject anti-Semitism and to come together in a show of unity to fight hatred and bigotry.

"We need to battle darkness with light. No matter how dark the world is, we need to think of light. A little bit of light pushes away a little darkness. A lot of light pushes away a lot more," he said. "No matter what religion you're from...we need to tilt the scale."

Goldstein added that he had a phone conversation with President Donald Trump, who expressed his condolences and discussed his love of peace and support for Judaism.

The rabbi of a California synagogue that was the scene of a mass shooting said it was a miracle that he survived after coming into close contact with the gunman.