Before California synagogue shooting, suspect may have set mosque on fire

People mourn at a vigil at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church on April 27 in Poway.
(David McNew / Getty Images)

In late March, an arsonist set fire to an Escondido mosque and left a note referencing a shooting rampage at two New Zealand mosques in which dozens were killed. On Saturday, a gunman opened fire at a Poway synagogue, killing one and injuring three others.

Authorities now are investigating whether both acts of hate were committed by the same man: John T. Earnest.

The 19-year-old was arrested Saturday after the synagogue shooting. The manifesto Earnest allegedly wrote speaks at length of anti-Semitism. “I scorched a mosque in Escondido,” the manifesto says.


Authorities say they are now probing the manifesto as part of the larger investigation.

Who is the Poway shooting suspect?

Earnest, a Rancho Peñasquitos resident, is enrolled at Cal State San Marcos. President Karen Haynes confirmed his attendance and said in a statement that the school was cooperating with authorities.

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Earnest previously attended Mt. Carmel High School, where his father taught.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said there was no record that Earnest had prior interaction with law enforcement.

What did the manifesto say?

Earnest appears to have left behind a nine-page manifesto filled with racist rants and details of his personal life, including that he is a Rancho Peñasquitos resident and nursing student from the “depths” of California.

In the document, titled “an open letter,” the writer said he was inspired by Brenton Tarrant, the Australian white nationalist who killed 50 people in attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15. It was the worst mass shooting in the country’s modern history.

That shooting, the manifesto goes on, led to a decision four weeks ago to attack the Chabad of Poway: “How long did it take you to plan the attack? Four weeks. Four weeks ago, I decided I was doing this. Four weeks later, I did it.”


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The anti-Semitic letter reveals “disgust” for Jews and a desire to kill them. The writer said he was willing to sacrifice his future “for the sake of my people.” Earnest is white.

The manifesto, which contains profanity and racial slurs, says of the Escondido fire:

“I scorched a mosque in Escondido with gasoline a week after Brenton Tarrant’s sacrifice and they never found ... on me (I didn’t realize … were sleeping inside though — they woke up and put out the fire pretty much immediately after I drove away which was unfortunate.”

The writer also said he would stream the shooting live on Facebook, although a spokesperson for the social media company said the company had found no evidence of any video related to the incident. The company disabled the Facebook account linked to from the letter because it was deemed to be a fake account, the person said.

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Part of the manifesto is directed at Earnest’s family and friends, giving reasons for the attack. It says the ideology expressed is not inherited from family members.


What do we know about Earnest’s family?

The tenor of the online posting contrasts with Ramona resident Joyce Daubert’s encounters with the Earnest family.

Daubert is a retired schoolteacher. She taught alongside Earnest’s father at Mt. Carmel.

The suspect’s father has a long history of serving as a lifeguard in La Jolla. He was a physics and science teacher at Mt. Carmel until he retired in 2016, according to information he posted on Facebook.

Daubert said she was stupefied and heartbroken by the son’s suspected involvement.

“I don’t have enough words to say how lovely” the family is, she said in a phone interview Saturday afternoon.

Daubert only met the younger Earnest at faculty gatherings but described him as “charming, really impressive, and so sweet and nice.”