An eight-year-old girl has revealed how she suffered a shrapnel wound in a deadly shooting at a Southern Californian synagogue.
Noya Dahan had finished praying and gone to play with other children at Chabad of Poway near San Diego when gunshots rang out. Her uncle grabbed her and the other children, leading them outside to safety as her leg bled from a shrapnel wound.
“I was scared, really, really scared,” said Noya, recalling how the group of children cried out in fear after a gunman entered the synagogue on Saturday morning and started shooting.
“I didn’t see my dad. I thought he was dead.”
The onslaught on the last day of Passover, a Jewish holiday celebrating freedom, wounded Noya, her uncle Almog Peretz and the congregation’s rabbi. Congregant Lori Kaye, 60, was killed.
Authorities said the 19-year-old gunman opened fire as about 100 people were worshipping. The attack came exactly six months after a mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Rabbi Yishoel Goldstein said he was preparing for a service when a young man wearing sunglasses appeared in front of him with a rifle.
“I couldn’t see his eyes. I couldn’t see his soul,” Rabbi Goldstein said.
He raised his hands and lost one of his fingers in the shooting.
And then, the rabbi said, “miraculously the gun jammed”.
In the moments that followed, Rabbi Goldstein said he wrapped his bloodied hand in a prayer shawl and addressed congregants gathered outside the building, vowing to stay strong in the face of the deadly attack targeting his community.
“We are a Jewish nation that will stand tall. We will not let anyone take us down. Terrorism like this will not take us down,” he recalled telling the community.
Authorities said suspect John T Earnest, who was not known to police, may face a hate crime charge in addition to homicide charges when he is arraigned later this week.
Police searched Earnest’s house and said he was also being investigated in connection with an arson attack on a mosque in nearby Escondido, California, on March 24.
There were indications an AR-type assault weapon might have malfunctioned after the gunman fired numerous rounds inside, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said.
An off-duty Border Patrol agent fired at the shooter as he fled, missing him but striking his getaway vehicle, the sheriff said.
Shortly after fleeing, Earnest called 911 to report the shooting, San Diego police chief David Nisleit said. When an officer reached him on a road, “the suspect pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody,” he said.
Rabbi Goldstein described Ms Kaye as a pioneering founding member of the congregation and said he was heartbroken by her death.
He said the attack could have harmed many more people had the shooter turned towards the sanctuary where so many were praying.
“Lori took the bullet for all of us,” the rabbi said, his hands wrapped in bandages. “She didn’t deserve to die.”
He said that Ms Kaye’s physician husband was called to tend to a wounded worshipper and fainted when he realised it was his wife.
Friends described Ms Kaye as giving, warm and attentive to community members on their birthdays and when they were sick.
Sheriff Gore said authorities were reviewing Earnest’s social media posts, including what he described as a “manifesto”. There was no known threat after Earnest was arrested, but authorities boosted patrols at places of worship on Saturday and again on Sunday as a precaution, police said.
A person identifying himself as John Earnest posted an anti-Jewish screed online about an hour before the attack. The poster described himself as a nursing school student and praised the suspects accused of carrying out deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand last month that killed 50 and at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, in which 11 people were killed.
US national security adviser John Bolton told Fox News Sunday: “It was a hate crime, no doubt about it.”
He said investigators have not seen any connection between the suspect and other extremist groups.