Deadly shooting at California synagogue

By Harmeet Kaur, Nicole Chavez and Christina Kline, CNN

Updated 5:07 p.m. ET, May 1, 2019
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6:52 p.m. ET, April 28, 2019

Injured rabbi chokes up as he recounts the moment of the shooting

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, leader of Congregation Chabad, gave an emotional account of his encounter with the shooter.

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Goldstein said he came face-to-face with the shooter in the lobby of his synagogue, saying he saw "a young man standing with a rifle, pointing right at me."

"I couldn't see his eyes, I couldn't see his soul. I froze," Goldstein said.

Goldstein was shot in the hands, losing an index finger in the attack.

Goldstein said off-duty Border Patrol agent Jonathan Morales, as well as former soldier Oscar Stewart, tried to tackle the gunman when his gun jammed.

The gunman was able to run away, got into his car and fled the scene.

Goldstein said Morales had recently discovered his Jewish roots and traveled 3 ½ hours from El Centro, California, to pray with the congregation on Passover. The rabbi had previously told Morales to arm himself when he comes to their congregation, saying he told Morales, "we never know when we will need it."

Goldstein choked up as he talked about his friend Lori Kaye, who died in Saturday's shooting. "She died to protect all of us," he said. "She didn't deserve to die right in front of my eyes."

Goldstein recalled grabbing a prayer shawl to wrap his arm and bleeding fingers. He said he saw his congregation outside and felt compelled to do something, so he stood on a chair and declared:

"We are a Jewish nation that will stand tall, we will not let anyone or anything take us down. Terrorism like this will not take us down."

Watch the emotional press conference here.

Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this report

5:06 p.m. ET, April 28, 2019

A GoFundMe campaign is raising money for the shooting victims

A person by the username Cam N has started a GoFundMe campaign to collect donations for victims of the synagogue shooting.

According to the description on the page, the funds will go directly to the Chabad of Poway.

"These donations would be used to pay for for any necessary medical operations for the victims, funeral services, synagogue reparations or anything else the synagogue would need assistance with," the description reads. "With your help, we can get the victims the help they need. Thank you."

The person who started the campaign wrote on the page that while they don't worship at the synagogue in Poway, seeing an attack on a place of worship horrified them and motivated them to start the campaign.

The page for the campaign can be found here.

4:16 p.m. ET, April 28, 2019

His kids left Israel to escape violence. Then gunfire erupted at their synagogue in the US.

From CNN’s Oren Liebermann and Michael Schwartz

The father of Almog Peretz, who was wounded in the synagogue shooting, said he never believed something like this could happen to his family in the United States.

Aharon Peretz, who lives in Israel, heard about the shooting on Saturday evening after the end of Sabbath. He tried to call his son, Almog, and his daughter, Eden Dahan, who attend the Chabad synagogue, but he says their phones were off because it was still the Sabbath in the US.

“My wife and I were very afraid,” Peretz told CNN’s Oren Liebermann. “We started to run to figure out how to get ahold of them.”

Peretz was eventually able to get in touch with a neighbor in California, who told him his son and granddaughter had been lightly injured in the shooting.

He said his children left Israel to escape regional violence.

“The children always said, ‘Let’s leave, Let’s leave.’ But my wife and I stayed here, and they left for the United States,” Peretz explained. 

"The fact that violence still found them in the US is “unbelievable,” he added.

Still, Peretz was happy to hear about how his son rushed children out of an emergency exit to safety during the shooting.

“My son is a hero — truly a hero. I know him — he’s a serious man. He saved the kids. All the best to him,” said Peretz. “It’s good that he saved young children when someone came to kill them. He cared for them and saved them and put them in a place where they can be safe.”

3:10 p.m. ET, April 28, 2019

One woman says the shooting has made her afraid to attend synagogue

Irena Slovskayah and Sebastian Ramirez attended an anti-hate rally in Long Beach, California, on Sunday.
Irena Slovskayah and Sebastian Ramirez attended an anti-hate rally in Long Beach, California, on Sunday.

Irena Slovskayah, who was at an anti-hate rally in Long Beach on Sunday, told CNN's Paul Vercammen she was horrified by the synagogue shooting in Poway and by anti-Semitic rhetoric in the US.

"I just feel unsafe," she said. "I feel unsafe with the rhetoric and people keep asking me if I'm Jewish, and I don't understand why that's even relevant."

Slovskayah added that the shooting has made her afraid to attend synagogue.

"I go to synagogues. What if there's another attack? So I just fear, maybe I should stop going to synagogues. Maybe I should keep my Jewish heritage quiet. I just think I have to protect myself. Maybe I should carry a weapon because I am fearful for my life," she said.

2:43 p.m. ET, April 28, 2019

All shooting victims have been discharged from the hospital

All the victims from the shooting at Congregation Chabad synagogue on Saturday have been discharged from Palomar Health in San Diego County, a hospital spokesperson says.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein will be holding a press conference at the synagogue today at 5 p.m. EST.

2:41 p.m. ET, April 28, 2019

A grandfather shielded his grandson from bullets during the attack

Shimon Abitbul is visiting the US from Israel and was at Congregation Chabad in Poway during Saturday's shooting. He talked to CNN's Nick Watt about the experience.

Abitbul said he first tried to protect his grandson from the shooter by lying on top of the child. Once he heard a pause in the gunfire, he took his grandson and ran away from the synagogue and into the neighborhood. Abitbul's granddaughter was being led to safety by Almog Peretz, who then got shot in the leg.

According to Abitbul, his grandchildren didn't understand what was going on. They thought they were playing, and there wasn't a real shooting.

Abitbul also described the heart-wrenching moments when Lori Kaye's husband, who is a doctor, tried to save her life. Abitdul, who is a paramedic in Israel, said they saw a hole in her chest and tried to perform CPR on her. Kaye ultimately died.

2:02 p.m. ET, April 28, 2019

Pastor of the church the suspect attended speaks out

A shot of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where the synagogue shooting suspect was a member.
A shot of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where the synagogue shooting suspect was a member.

CNN spoke with Zach Keele, the pastor at Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where the 19-year-old synagogue shooting suspect John Earnest attended.

Keele said that Earnest was a member of the church for most of his life, but he didn’t participate in any youth or Sunday school activities. The pastor condemned the shooting.

“We completely deplore what he did," Keele said. "It is not part of our beliefs, our practices, our teachings in any way. Our hearts, our prayers, our tears go out to the victims. To all those wonderful neighbors at the synagogue, we pray for them.

"And it just saddens us that this horrible act of evil could come from someone we know," he added.

Keele said the shooting came as surprise to the community.

"We believe in lifting high the love of Christ to all people -- men, women, old and young from every tribe and denomination," he said. "This is a complete surprise. He was quiet, kept to himself, sweet guy. We had no idea. This a surprise to all of us.”

1:33 p.m. ET, April 28, 2019

The rabbi injured in the shooting wants Jewish people to 'fill up the synagogues'

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who leads Congregation Chabad and was injured in Saturday’s attack, spoke to CNN's Brian Stelter about what it was like to escape death, losing a friend and anti-Semitism.

On surviving the tragedy:

It is so horrific. I met the terrorist face to face, eye to eye. Our eyes locked and he aimed at me and miraculously, I was able to just survive losing my fingers but still alive here to say today.

Sadly, my colleague, my long-time mentor was Lori Kaye, that was standing between the lobby, did not survive. She was shot point-blank. 

On Lori Kaye, the woman who was killed:

Lori and I have known each other for over 25 years. She was one of the pioneering members of our congregation. She is not just a member, she's an activist. She personified ultimate of kindness and generosity. 

She's one of those people who are always there to be able to help others in their time of need. When people are diagnosed with cancer, she would be dragging them to appointments and would bring flowers to cheer people up and bake Shabbat challah just to bring the family some happiness. 

She was the ultimate woman of kindness and it's unfathomable, why this beautiful, beautiful, wonderful human being would be shot down.

On attacks targeting Jewish people:

This has to stop. The constitution of the United States guarantees freedom and religion for all faith. You know, we're so lucky and fortunate to live in a country that protects our rights to live as proud Jews. We're still recovering from the Holocaust. We found a haven to live as free people and yet, we're being mowed down like animals like we're Nazi Germany. And this has to stop.

But you know what? We're not going to be intimidated or deterred. Terror will not win and as Americans, we can't and won't cower in the face of this senseless hate of what's called anti-semitism. 

On his reflections after the shooting:

After recovering from surgery, so much thoughts have been running through my mind trying to figure out what sense can I make out of this? Why was my life spared? 

I was centimeters away from being shot point blank, and I got away from losing my index finger that will be a scar forever. But that scar is going to remind me how vulnerable we are, but yet how heroic each one of us can be to stand up and fight against terror. 

On how to combat the darkness:

A little bit of light pushes away a lot of darkness. We need a lot of light now.

This coming Saturday, I personally feel I want to appeal to all the Jewish people to make an effort to attend synagogue. We need to fill up those rooms, not run away from synagogue. On the contrary, let's fill up the synagogues. 

Let us show these terrorists, let us show these evil, wicked people, they will not do anything to hinder us from being proud Jews, and for being proud people walking the freedom of America. 

We need to really answer the darkness with as much life as possible.

On his message to his congregation:

I have lived through this horror for a reason. And we have been taught anything that you see and hear in life, you need to take a lesson and do something with it. And I want to take my message to as many people as possible.

Missing a finger is just a finger. But God didn't want me to die yesterday. God wants me to continue on being his emissary and to be a partner.

And you know what? We are all created in the image of God. We all have a mission in this world. We are all partners of God's creation. We all need to just take this darkness and do some random acts of kindness.

It's going to tip the scale in our favor 100%. 

On turning pain into something positive:

I got both of my hands wrapped up. I can't even drink a cup of water. I'm in excruciating pain out of surgery, but the pain doesn't pale towards what I can do to help another person. What can I do to inspire others who have been in such dark spaces as well? Hopefully, I accomplish that. 

Watch part of the interview here:

1:24 p.m. ET, April 28, 2019

Hero uncle leads children to safety after being shot

Almog Peretz, one of three people wounded in Saturday's shooting at Congregation Chabad, spoke with CNN's Oren Liebermann about the attack.

Peretz, who is visiting San Diego from Israel, said he was shot in the leg, where the bullet is still lodged. Doctors are evaluating whether to removed it.

"Thank God I am slowly, slowly improving," he said.

Peretz was in the synagogue with his family and was taking a friend's daughter to the dining room when the shooter entered the building, he said. He said he heard a gunshot, turned around to look and saw the shooter standing in the lobby.

"He stood by the door so he could escape. He was calm, he stood like a soldier and he shot like a sniper. Standing calmly in the doorway and just shooting so that if he had to run he could," Peretz said.

Peretz said he was across the synagogue from the shooter and did not see anyone else shot. He saw the shooter "line him up, almost like he had a sniper, and aimed, and started shooting."

That's when Peretz believes he was shot. Peretz said he ran to an emergency exit door and told nearby children to follow him. Peretz took the kids next door to the rabbi's home. He then returned to the synagogue to search for a niece who was missing. She was later found hiding in the bathroom in the synagogue, he said. By the time Peretz returned to the synagogue, the shooter was gone, he added.

One of Peretz's other nieces, 9-year-old Noya Dahan, was injured by shrapnel but has since been released from the hospital, he said.