‘This is not Poway’: San Diego suburb reels from synagogue shooting

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus, left, joins San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore at a news conference after Saturday’s deadly shooting at a synagogue in Poway.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A deadly shooting Saturday at a synagogue has left the San Diego County suburb of Poway reeling.

“This is not Poway,” Mayor Steve Vaus said at a news conference. “We always walk with our arms around each other, and we will walk through this tragedy with our arms around each other.”

The mayor expressed appreciation for the quick law enforcement response and for those who showed courage during the violence.

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Poway, a city of about 50,000 people north of San Diego known for its rural charms, describes itself as “the City in the Country.”

In 2015, it was named the 26th-safest city out of the 478 incorporated communities in California.

One person was killed and three others injured Saturday when a 19-year-old man armed with a rifle opened fire during Passover services at Chabad of Poway.

Authorities identified the suspect as John T. Earnest, a resident of nearby Rancho Peñasquitos.

Earnest appears to have written a letter posted on the internet filled with anti-Semitic screeds. In the letter, he also talked about planning the attack.

Cantor Caitlin Bromberg of the Ner Tamid synagogue in Poway said: “We’re feeling fear. It could have just as easily been our service. It hits close to home.”

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The shooting came on the last day of Passover, one of the most sacred holidays in the Jewish faith. The eight-day festival commemorates the freedom of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt and is typically observed with a number of rituals, including Seder meals, the removal of leavened products from the home and the sharing of the exodus story.

“Targeting them seems pretty intentional to me,” Bromberg said. “I don’t know what we’re going to learn about the shooter, but it seems [he] knew something about Judaism.”

Poway High School has been set up as a family assistance center for anyone seeking information about loved ones. Trauma counselors were being sent to the synagogue, where about 100 people were awaiting interviews with homicide detectives.

The mayor said he expects Poway to come together amid the violence.

“We will get through this,” he told reporters. “Poway will stay strong. We will always be a community that cares for each other.”

Davis and Jones write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.