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Wounded Rabbi Addresses Media After Synagogue Attack

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A day after his house of worship was attacked, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein appeared outside the Chabad of Poway synagogue yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YISROEL GOLDSTEIN: In every generation, they rise up against us, but God will protect us.

GREENE: The shooting there on Saturday took place prior to a Passover celebration. One woman was killed; three others were injured, and that included the rabbi. His hand was wrapped in bandages as he was speaking to journalists yesterday. The gunman's bullets hit the rabbi's hands. And after surgery, he lost one of his index fingers.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye was killed during this shooting, and Rabbi Goldstein recounted what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GOLDSTEIN: I walk into the lobby, and I see Lori laying on the floor unconscious. And her dear husband Dr. Howard Kaye, who's like a brother to me, is trying to resuscitate her, and he faints. And he's laying there on the floor next to his wife. And then the daughter, Hannah, comes out screaming - Daddy and Mommy, let's go. This was the most heart-wrenching sight I could have seen.

GREENE: One of the people standing outside the synagogue as the rabbi was speaking with Steve Walsh, who reports from member station KPBS in San Diego. And he's with us. Hi there, Steve.

STEVE WALSH, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: As you were - as you were just taking all of that in from the rabbi, I mean, tell us what more you were learning about what happened Saturday.

WALSH: Well, as you can imagine, it was an incredibly emotional scene. On Sunday, members of the congregation started becoming a little more open and started sharing their experience. While the rabbi spoke - well, just after he spoke, members of the congregation were embracing him, embracing one another. Rabbi Goldstein said he's missing a finger now, so he'll be forever scarred. And it shows how vulnerable we all are. But he said that also shows how heroic each one of us can be.

And the woman who died, Lori Kaye - 60 years old - he's going to be presiding over her funeral today - later today. He says it is probably going to be the hardest thing he's done in his professional career.

GREENE: Wow. Well, as that is happening - as the community is mourning, what more are we learning about the shooter who did this and his motives here?

WALSH: Well, John Earnest is - he's 19 years old. He's believed to be a nursing student from San Diego. He had no prior contact with law enforcement prior to this. He had released a hate-filled rant online railing against Jews and Muslims and frankly anybody else who didn't hate Jews or Muslims. It sounded very much like some of the things we saw after Charlottesville in 2017.

He actually took credit for starting a fire at a nearby mosque, which had gone unsolved. It happened a little over a month ago. So far, he hasn't actually been charged with that, though. He - but police have charged him with, now, murder in the first degree and three counts of attempted murder. They released yesterday that they believe he acted alone and he was not part of any organized groups.

They had actually worked - police had worked through the night and interviewed over a hundred people to get a sense of what had really gone on there. The mayor of Poway called it a hate crime. He was using an AR-15-style weapon. It may have jammed. We talked with Oscar Stewart, who said that he rushed the gunman, and he actually ended up dropping his weapon. And then another congregant, who is a Border Patrol agent in the El Centro district, which is just east of here - he ran out of the temple and fired shots at the suspect.

So along with all of the tears, there was a tremendous amount of resolve saying that, you know, we are not helpless; we will not stand by; we will fight if we have to.

GREENE: Steve Walsh from member station KPBS in San Diego. Steve, thanks a lot.

WALSH: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.