“One guy was shooting at everybody and cursing,” said synagogue member Minoo Anvari, whose husband was inside when the shooting broke out.
Witnesses said a rabbi is among the injured, reportedly shot in the hand. He apparently continued with his sermon after being wounded, telling people to stay strong.
“One message from all of us in our congregation is that we are standing together. We are getting stronger,” Anvari said. “Never again. You can’t break us. We are strong.”
Danny Almog, 40, had just arrived at the synagogue with his family when he heard six shots — noise he thought might be a chandelier falling or chairs crashing.
Screams followed: “Hide yourself. Shooting! Shooting! Shooting!”
He saw the gunman — white, about 5-foot-8 and carrying a gun that Almog said looked like an M-16.
“He didn’t say nothing,” Almog said. “Just came in and started shooting.”
Almog said he dropped to the floor and started crawling to find to his kids. He saw that his father-in-law had thrown his body over the Almog’s 2 ½ year old son to protect him. Then saw the older man get up and he ran to grab his 4-year-old daughter Yuli, who had been in a children’s play room with perhaps a dozen other kids.
He screamed, “Yuli, Yuli, where are you?”
A friend, Almog Peretz, said he had her. The friend had scooped up several kids and ushered them to safety. And as he did so, Peretz was shot in the leg.
Almogg called Peretz a hero.
The violence, which Poway’s mayor said appeared to be hate-motivated, stunned the upscale suburb north of San Diego.
Cantor Caitlin Bromberg of Ner Tamid Synagogue, which is down the street from Chabad of Poway, said her congregation learned of the shooting at the end of their Passover services. Saturday marked the eighth and final day of Passover, a holiday that marks the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery.
Bromberg said her congregants were en route to Chabad of Poway to show support and help in any way that they can.
“We are horrified and upset, and we want them to know we are thinking of them,” she told The Times. “The message of the final day of Passover is to be looking forward to … the time when all the world will be at peace.”
Bromberg said someone from the congregation had received a text that there was a shooting at a synagogue in Poway. The person who sent the text did not know which temple was targeted and wanted to make sure the congregant was OK.
Bromberg said she has not heard from the leadership of the Chabad of Poway because they would not normally use the phone during the Sabbath.
“They would only do that on emergency basis, if they do it at all,” she said.
The shooting occurred around 11:20 a.m. and brought a huge police presence.
A large group of congregants had gathered behind the temple following the shooting, sheriff’s Sgt. Aaron Meleen said. It was not immediately clear how many people were attending services.
As the suspect was fleeing the scene, an off-duty Border Patrol agent shot at his vehicle, but he got away, authorities said. He was captured a short time later.
Founded in 1986 by Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, Chabad of Poway is affiliated with Lubavitch, a branch within Orthodox Judaism’s Hasidic movement. It bills itself as a place where “traditional Jewish values are brought to life in a joyous, non-judgmental atmosphere.”
It grew quickly, attracting families to a congregation modeled on the bustling Jewish enclaves that existed in New York City and Eastern Europe. Dozens moved within walking distance so they could follow the requirement to not operate machinery on the Sabbath. The campus underwent a $1.7-million expansion project in the mid-1990s, building a 13,000-square-foot facility with a sanctuary, a meeting hall, and offices.
Members of Chabad of Poway were left trying to understand.
“Why? The question is, why?” Anvari said. “People are praying.”