By Miriam Raftery
Photos: Lori Kaye, the sole fatality, and injured survivors Rabbi Ysroel Goldstein, Almog Perez, and Noya Dahan
Updated April 29 with information on Iraq War veteran Oscar Stewart, who chased the gunman out of the synagogue
April 28, 2019 (Poway) – When a gunman opened fire on unarmed worshippers and a rabbi inside the Chabad Congregation synagogue on Saturday, his victims displayed remarkable courage—saving many lives. About 100 people were in the synagogue, but only four were struck, according to Sheriff Bill Gore.
Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, a founding member of the synagogue, jumped between the gunman and Rabbi Ysroel Goldstein, sacrificing her own life to save the spiritual leader, CNN reports. She had come to say a Kaddish prayer for the dead for her late mother, but now the prayer will be recited in her memory.
Rabbi Goldstein raised his hands and bullets tore through his fingers. ““I saw a group of children in the banquet hall, including my granddaughter,” he told NBC TV after surgery, “not even knowing that my fingers were blown off, I got the kids and everyone out of the sanctuary safely.” Outside the sanctuary, despite his bloody wounds, the Rabbi continued to deliver his Passover message and told his congregation, “We are united.”
He told NBC that he prays for healing during this time of pain and grief, adding, “Everybody needs to be a hero. Everybody needs to step up and do something in the face of terror.”
Almog Perez, 34, gathered up as many children as he could to usher them to safety. As he ran with the children from the shooter, he received shrapnel injuries in his leg but is expected to recover.
The fourth victim in the shooting is Perez’s niece, Noya Dahan, 8, who had shrapnel injuries to her face and leg. She has been transferred to Rady Children’s Hospital.
Ironically, the Dahan family moved to the U.S. from Israel several years ago after Noya’s parents were injured by rockets. But several years ago, their home here was sprayed with Swastikas. Now, Noya’s father, Israel Dahan told CNN, Noya and the family’s other children no longer feel safe in America, either. He said the children are asking, “Why are we staying here?”
Gilbert-Kaye’s husband, a physician, was at the synagogue too and was asked to come to the aid of a woman who had been shot. He rushed to a fallen woman and began performing CPR, but fainted upon realizing it was his wife.
Lori Glibert-Kaye’s friend, Roneet Lev, says Kaye “didn’t die a senseless death” but instead, drew attention to anti-Semitism as well as to the need to “bring good into this world…If God put an angel on this planet, it would have been Lori.” Kaye, the only fatality in the shooting, leaves behind a 22-year-old daughter as well as her husband.
A GoFundMe account to help the survivors of the attack and Gilbert Kaye's family has been established. Over $47,000 has been raised as of today. You can donate here.
Another hero is Oscar Stewart, an Iraq War veteran who normally sits up front, but on Saturday, decided to sit in the back row at the synagogue--a decision he attributes to God. When he heard gunfire and others ran for safety, Stewart did the opposite -- charging toward the gunman in the foyer. Several feet away from the shooter, Stewart says he screamed as long and loud as he could, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The gunman appeared startled and let go of his weapon, which dangled from the shooter's sling as he turned and fled.
"I chased him out of the synagogue," says Stewart, who pursued the gunman to his getaway vehicle and began punching at it. An off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard at the synagogue then told Stewart to move out of the way, saying "Clear back, I have a gun. He then fired five rounds and struck the getaway vehicle, according to Sheriff Bill Gore.
The shooter, 19-year-old Cal State San Marcos student John Earnest, drove off but was arrested a short time later. Sheriff Gore says the FBI is aiding in an investigating that included raids on Earnest’s San Diego residence and a probe to confirm that he is the author of a manifesto posted online earlier in the day. The manifesto included white supremacist racial hate speech and a threat to live-stream the shooting at the Poway synagogue, as well as claiming credit for a recent arson fire at an Escondido mosque.
Despite the terror and bloodshed, the remaining congregation members, after debriefings by law enforcement officials, refused to allow the mayhem to halt their holiday services. Their courage in the face of a cowardly terrorist act will be long remembered.
Chabad.org News reports, “Later that afternoon, the police allowed the congregants to regroup in the nearby home of Rabbi Mendel Goldstein, where the prayers were concluded. The service included Yizkor, in which the souls of the departed loved ones are recalled. Having been informed that Gilbert-Kaye had succumbed, they said a special prayer for her soul. Following Chassidic custom, as the day came to an end, they sat down for a festive meal known as Moshiach’s meal, which included joyous singing and dancing. Poway Mayor Steve Vaus joined them along with other guests.”
Denouncing the murder of Lori Gilbert Kaye solely for her religious beliefs, Rabbi Yonah Fradkin, executive director of Chabad of San Diego, stated, “In the face of senseless hate we commit to live proudly as Jews in this glorious country,” Chabad.org reports.”We strongly believe that love is exponentially more powerful than hate.”