A federal prosecutor says a 19-year-old man accused of a deadly attack on a Southern California synagogue called a 911 dispatcher and said he thought he killed some people and did it because he was “trying to defend my nation” against Jews.
U.S. Atty. Robert S. Brewer Jr. announced Thursday in San Diego the filing of 109 federal hate-crime charges against John T. Earnest stemming from last month’s shooting at Chabad of Poway, which killed a woman and wounded three other people.
The new charges also include an earlier arson at a nearby mosque.
Brewer says authorities will not allow “community members to be hunted in their houses of worship.”
Prosecutors say Earnest killed a woman and wounded an 8-year-old girl, her uncle and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading the service April 27 at the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday.
In a court appearance last month, Earnest pleaded not guilty to state charges of murder and attempted murder. In a separate case, he pleaded not guilty to burning a mosque in nearby Escondido.
Authorities say he fired at least eight shots in the synagogue before fleeing.
Earnest would be eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted of murder that is classified as a hate crime. California Gov. Gavin Newsom in March issued a moratorium on executions while he’s in office.
Prosecutors said Earnest expressed his “intent to harm Jews” in an online posting. He also acknowledged using gasoline to spark a blaze that charred a wall of the Escondido mosque and scrawling graffiti praising the gunman who killed 50 people at two New Zealand mosques last month, prosecutors said.
Earnest was an accomplished student, athlete and musician whose embrace of white supremacy and anti-Semitism stunned his family and others closest to him. He lived with his parents and made the dean’s list both semesters last year as a nursing student at Cal State San Marcos.
Earnest frequented 8chan, a dark corner of the web where those disaffected by mainstream social media sites often post extremist, racist and violent views.
“I’ve only been lurking here for a year and half,” he wrote, “yet what I’ve learned here is priceless. It’s been an honor.”
Federal hate crime charges were also filed against the gunman who last fall opened fire at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, killing 11 worshipers. Authorities in that case said Robert Bowers also expressed hatred of Jews. Bowers, 46, has pleaded not guilty.