Poway synagogue shooting: Two congregations torn apart

Posted By on May 1, 2019

After a shooting at Chabad of Poway Synagogue left one person dead, members of the community come together to heal. Harrison Hill, USA TODAY

ESCONDIDO, Calif. Two religious congregations about 12 miles apart one Jewish and the other Christian were bound by tragedy over the weekend.

One wasa synagogue ripped apart by gunfire;the other was a churchthe suspected shooter's familyregularly attended.What both sharedSunday: an overwhelming sense of grief as worshippersgrappled to make sense of the senseless.

Their leaders, arabbi and apastor, did their best to show how they are rising above hate.

At the Chabad of Poway, Orthodox Jews had gathered for Passover when a gunman burst in with a semiautomatic rifle Saturday and started shooting, killing a worshipper and wounding the rabbi and two others.

Heather Fay with her son Marshall came to add flowers and notes at the memorial site across from the Chabad of Poway synagogue on April 28, 2019.(Photo: Nick Oza, USA TODAY Network)

More: Her 'final good deed': Woman hailed as hero after taking bullets to protect rabbi during synagogue shooting

The next morning at the Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church, also nestled in the picturesque rolling hills northeast of San Diego,the minister led the congregation in collective soul searching over how a 19-year-old,a member of one of their most respected families, could have allegedly carried out a crime so horrific, one that so flew in the face of the church's values and teachings.

At both congregations, the sense of horror was palpable. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein enduredthe "indescribable" experience of staring down the barrel of a military-style rifle during a service in his own synagogue.

Here is a young man standing with a rifle, pointing right at me, and I look at him. He had sunglasses on. I couldnt see his eyes. I couldnt see his soul, Goldstein said.

More: Security boosted at mosques, synagogues after shooting; emotional rabbi lauds congregation's bravery

Police saidthat young man was John Earnest, who lived with his parents while attending nearby California State University San Marcos. He had graduated from Mt.Carmel High School, where his father was a teacher, and he was accomplished at the piano and participated on the swim team.Earnest struck many as being unusually reserved.

I tried to talk to John several times, but he just never said anything.I think its not good if someone is as quiet as that,longtime parishionerGerrit Groenewoldsaid at the Escondido church.

The pastor of thechurch, Zach Keele, was so disturbed by the shooting that he called a special session after the mainservice to talk about it with the congregation. Most worshippersstayed, and they allowed a USA TODAY reporter to witness the moment.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein says Lori Kaye, who was shot and killed in a synagogue near San Diego, died to protect others in the congregation. (April 29) AP

Keele, in emotional tones, prayed for the victims,the police investigatorsand the Earnestfamily. He decried the evil that had landed on the church's doorstep. He prayed that the suspect's soul "will be softened."

He reached for consolation, finding little except that the suspect, in amanifesto police saidhe published beforethe crime, didn't blame his family for his radicalization, saying it was based on writinghe encountered online.

More: 1 dead, 3 wounded in shooting at synagogue near San Diego

There is no superior race. We are all created equal," Keele said.We are committed to loving all people."

He saidhe plans to reach out and express my condolences to the synagogue."

Keeleis likely to find a receptive audience for the message in Goldstein. The rabbiemerged Sunday froma hospital where he lost a finger damaged inthe attack determined that the community would heal.

Wow, wow, wow, he said at a rally later Sundayattendedby more than 1,000 people. Look at the love. Look at the warmth. What happened to us, happened to all of us."

Contributing: Amy DiPierro,Rebecca Plevin, The Desert Sun

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Poway synagogue shooting: Two congregations torn apart

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