US synagogue attacked by gunman on final day of Passover

Sandy Huffaker, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 28 2019 07:53 AM

POWAY, United States - A gunman opened fire at a synagogue in California on Saturday, killing one person and injuring three others including the rabbi as worshippers marked the final day of Passover, authorities said.

The shooting in the town of Poway, north of San Diego, came exactly six months after a white supremacist killed 11 people at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue -- the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in US history.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore told reporters that the 19-year-old gunman burst into the Chabad of Poway synagogue shortly after 11:20 a.m. local time and opened fire with an assault weapon before fleeing.

"During the shooting, four individuals were wounded and transported to Palimar hospital," Gore told a press conference. "One succumbed to their wounds. The other three are in stable condition." 

He said the injured were a female juvenile and two adult men, while an older woman died from her injuries.

Gore said an off-duty border patrol agent who was at the synagogue at the time of the shooting opened fire on the gunman as he was fleeing, striking his car but missing the suspect.

The man was eventually apprehended by a San Diego police officer who had been monitoring dispatch radio and raced to the scene, San Diego police chief David Nisleit said.

"He clearly saw the suspect's vehicle, the suspect jumped out with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody by the San Diego police department," Nisleit said.

"As the officer was placing this 19-year-old male into custody, he clearly saw a rifle on the front passenger seat of the suspect vehicle," he added.

HATE CRIME

Gore did not disclose the identity of the suspect or a motive, saying only that he was from San Diego and that authorities were examining his social media activity and establishing the legitimacy of an anti-Semitic open letter published online.

"We have copies of his social media posts and his open letter and we'll be reviewing those to determine the legitimacy of it and how it plays in to the investigation," he said.

He added that police were interviewing about 100 people who were at the scene of the shooting.

Speaking outside the White House, President Donald Trump said the shooting appears to be a "hate crime" and offered his support to the victims.

"My deepest sympathies go to the people that were affected," he said. "We're doing some very heavy research ... at this moment it looks like a hate crime."

California's Governor Gavin Newsom also denounced the tragedy and offered his support to the victims and their families.

"While we continue to learn more about what transpired, we can't ignore the circumstances around this horrific incident," he said. 

"No one should have to fear going to their place of worship, and no one should be targeted for practicing the tenets of their faith."

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus earlier said the rabbi at the synagogue, located in a middle-class neighborhood around 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of San Diego, was shot in the hand.

"I want you to know this is not Poway," he told reporters. "The Poway I know comes together as we did just a few weeks ago, at an interfaith event.

"We always walk with our arms around each other, and we will walk through this tragedy with our arms around each other."

FLAMES OF HATRED

Minoo Anvari told the local CNN affiliate that her husband was inside the synagogue during the shooting.

"Just one message from all of us from our congregation that we are standing together," she said. "We are strong. You can't break us. We are all together."

On Twitter, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she was "heartbroken" by news of the shooting. 

"We have a responsibility to love + protect our neighbors," she said.

"The hatred and violence has got to stop," added California representative Mike Levin.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said in a statement that the shooting was "a horrific reminder that the flames of hatred still burn strong among some."

"An attack, on any house of worship, from churches in Sri Lanka and France to synagogues in Jerusalem or Pittsburgh to mosques in Christchurch, are an assault on human dignity and our rights as people of faith to pray to God," it added.