New federal charges filed in California synagogue shooting

SAN DIEGO (AP) — New federal charges were filed Tuesday against a man accused of opening fire in a Southern California synagogue, killing one person and wounding three others.

A federal grand jury handed up a revised indictment against John T. Earnest that adds four counts of discharging a firearm during crimes of violence.

He earlier pleaded not guilty to 109 federal charges including committing a hate crime and to state charges, including murder, in connection with the April 27 attack on the Chabad of Poway Synagogue. The earlier charges also include the attempted arson of a mosque in nearby Escondido.

Prosecutors haven’t decided whether to seek the death penalty.

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Prosecutors contend that Earnest, 19, opened fire with a semi-automatic assault rifle and was carrying 50 extra rounds but had trouble reloading the weapon and during the pause was chased outside by several members of the congregation, including an off-duty Border Patrol agent.

He drove away but was later captured.

The attack killed 60-year-old Lori Kaye, who was hit twice as she prayed in the synagogue foyer. Wounded were Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading the service on the last day of the Jewish holiday of Passover, an 8-year-old girl and her uncle.

A federal affidavit detailing the hate crime charges that was filed earlier this month describes a deeply disturbed man filled with hatred toward Jews and Muslims, which are detailed in a manifesto he allegedly published online. Earnest claimed to be inspired by the attacks on the mosques in New Zealand and the shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue last fall, the affidavit said.

Court documents said Earnest dialed 911 after fleeing the synagogue in his car and said: “I just shot up a synagogue.” He went on to tell the dispatcher he did it “because Jewish people are destroying the white race,” according to the affidavit. He was arrested without a struggle.

On Wednesday evening, the synagogue plans to dedicate a Torah scroll — a hand-written copy of Biblical books that is considered the most sacred object in Judaism — in honor of Kaye.

“Lori was such a kind, loving soul, and she knew everyone here, so this is really an opportunity for the community to come together and heal, and celebrate the life of a very special person who was brutally taken from us,” Goldstein said in a statement.

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