A California man who opened fire on Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, in 2019, will spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to murder and other charges in the shooting.
John Earnest, 22, a nursing student, walked into the house of worship near San Diego with a rifle and shot those celebrating Passover on April 27, 2019, killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye and the rabbi and an eight-year-old girl injured and her uncle.
Earnest avoids a potential death penalty from the state with his plea of guilty in San Diego Superior Court, but federal prosecutors have until Aug. 30 to decide whether or not to pursue the death penalty.
John Earnest pleaded guilty yesterday to charges of murder and attempted murder for the 2019 shooting at Congregation Chabad synagogue
During the hearing, Earnest seemed to show no emotion
Prosecutors presented video evidence of Earnest, then 19, entering the synagogue on Passover armed with a rifle
The San Diego State Department said Earnest would serve the life sentence without the possibility of parole in the state prison, NBC News reports.
“While we have reserved the option to try this as a death penalty case, a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the accused is an appropriate solution to this violent hate crime, and we hope it brings a measure of justice and closure to the victims, their families, friends and the wider community,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
In addition to murder and attempted murder, Earnest was also federally charged with more than 100 criminal counts, most of which are hate crimes.
The verdict is scheduled for September 30.
Earnest reportedly stormed into the synagogue on the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday that celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, and opened fire with an assault rifle at a crowd of about 100.
Earnest fled when the gun jammed, according to authorities and witnesses, dodging an Army veteran and an off-duty Border Patrol agent chasing him.
He called 911 to report the shooting and told police that Jewish people were “destroying the white race.”
A short time later he surrendered.
Gilbert-Kaye, who was killed, was a founding member of the congregation.
Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, (pictured) was identified as the woman killed in the horrific attack
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was shot in the hand, but witnesses say he continued to preach during the shooting
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and Lori Gilbert-Kaye were active members of their community. Here they participate in the Freedom Walk 2018 in San Diego
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was shot in the hands, while Noya Dahan, 8, and her uncle Almog Peretz received shrapnel.
An online screed by a self-identifying person as John Earnest and published shortly before the attack spewed hatred towards Jews and praised the perpetrators of attacks on mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people and near the Tree of Life in March 2019. synagogue that killed 11 on October 2018 in Pittsburgh.
Earnest visited 8chan, a dark corner of the web where people often post extremist, racist and violent views.
‘I’ve only been lurking here for a year and a half, but what I’ve learned here is invaluable. It was an honor,” he wrote.
Earnest, who apparently planned to livestream the attack, said he had planned the attack for four weeks.
“If you had told me even six months ago that I would be doing this, I would have been surprised,” Earnest wrote.
The FBI said it received tips five minutes before the 11:30 am attack about a social media post threatening violence against Jews.
Members of the Synagogue at the Chabad or Poway Synagogue in Poway, California
Police arrested Earnest after he called them to say he was the shooter and that Jewish people are ‘destroying the white race’
The tips to an FBI website and hotline provided a link to the anonymous post, but did not provide specific information about the author or the location of the threat.
The agency said employees immediately tried to identify who wrote it, but the shooting happened before they could determine his identity.
Earnest’s parents said their son and five siblings grew up in a family that “rejected hate and taught that love must be the motive for everything we do.”
“To our great shame, he is now part of the history of the evil that has been perpetrated against Jewish people for centuries,” the parents said at a press conference in 2019.
“Our son’s actions have been informed by people we don’t know, and ideas we don’t have.”
The parents, who are cooperating with investigators, refused to grant legal representation to their son and he was represented by a public defender.
During his first trial appearance on April 30, 2019, Earnest appeared dispassionate, saying “yes” only to waive his right to a speedy preliminary hearing.
As the federal case progresses, Earnest has filed a conditional plea deal on June 4, Kelly Thornton, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, told NBC News.
The next hearing is scheduled for September 8.
Anti-Semitic Incidents Rising in US
- The Anti-Defamation League released a report in May, which found that anti-Semitism in the US was on the rise in connection with the recent outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas
- Nearly 200 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in the week the conflict broke out
- ADL’s Center for Extremism has documented dozens of anti-Israel protests in the US since the violence began in Israel
- The ADL has documented disturbing anti-Semitism across multiple platforms – from Facebook and Twitter to TikTok and Instagram
- An analysis by Twitter in the days following the recent outbreak of violence showed more than 17,000 tweets using variations of the phrase “Hitler was right.”