Unsealed search warrants show man charged in Poway synagogue shooting bought gun in San Diego

John T. Earnest at a May 30 court appearance in San Diego. He is charged with killing one and injuring three others during a shooting at the Chabad of Poway in April.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In the days after the shooting at the Chabad of Poway in April, here are some steps that investigators took, according to 300 pages of records.

The 19-year-old man accused of opening fire at a Poway synagogue on April 27, killing one person and injuring three others, purchased his AR-15 assault rifle from a San Diego gun store for $963.41, according to a batch of previously secret court records unsealed Wednesday.

The records, 383 pages of search warrants and other materials, provide details of what investigators sought in the days after the fatal shooting carried out by John T. Earnest. A judge ordered the records unsealed after a coalition of local media organizations, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, went to court seeking public disclosure of the materials.

In an affidavit for a May 6 warrant seeking information from a bank account at Mission Federal Credit Union that Earnest opened, an investigator wrote that during a search of the Earnest’s home at Freeport Court in San Diego where he lived with his parents, a receipt for the purchase of the rifle from San Diego Guns on Mission Gorge Road was found. He paid for it using a credit card, the warrant said.

A person who did not give their name at the store said in a brief phone conversation, “That is not something we’re interested in commenting on at this time.”

Earnest is facing charges in state and federal court that, if he’s convicted, make him eligible for the death penalty in connection with the shooting. He has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities said he assaulted the synagogue at the Chabad of Poway just before 11:30 a.m. during a Passover service.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was killed and and three others were injured, including the rabbi and an 8-year-old child.


According to court records, Earnest fired up to 10 rounds, then had trouble reloading the weapon.

A congregant, armed with a handgun from another congregant, chased the gunman out of the synagogue and fired four rounds, missing him. Minutes later Earnest called 911, where authorities said he admitted to the shooting and was later arrested by San Diego police.

The warrants show investigators cast a wide net, collecting information from numerous phones, computers, cameras and laptops connected to Earnest, as well as searching records from Mt. Carmel High School as well as Cal State San Marcos, where he was enrolled. They also obtained information from social media and Google accounts connected to Earnest.

Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.