Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot
Poway synagogue shooter pleads guilty in court, July 20, 2021.

John T. Earnest, a Rancho Penasquitos man who entered the Chabad of Poway on April 27, 2019, opened fire and killed one woman, injured three others, and attempted to kill 50 others, was sentenced in federal court on Tuesday to life plus 30 years in prison for his crimes (1 Dead, 3 Wounded in Shooting at Chabad Shul in Poway, California).

Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was murdered in the attack. Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and founder of the congregation, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, was wounded, along with an eight-year-old girl and her 34-year-old uncle, both Israeli citizens from Sderot. The young girl had moved to California with her family to escape the incessant rocket attacks that were targeting her community – only to face an antisemitic gunman in her new homeland.


Earnest previously pleaded guilty to a 113-count indictment that included 54 counts of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 55 counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, and four firearms offenses.

Earnest also admitted that on March 24, 2019, he attempted to burn down the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque in Escondido, California, because of his hatred of Muslims. Seven missionaries were asleep in the mosque at the time, but no one was injured.

According to court documents, after several weeks of planning, on the morning of April 27, 2019, Earnest drove to the Chabad of Poway synagogue, where members of the congregation were gathered for religious worship. Earnest entered the building armed with a Smith and Wesson M&P 15 assault rifle that was fully loaded with a 10-round magazine. He wore a chest rig that contained five additional magazines, each loaded with ten rounds of ammunition. Earnest opened fire, killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injuring three other members of the congregation, including a then eight-year-old child. After Earnest emptied his initial magazine, several congregants rushed at Earnest. Earnest fled in his car and, shortly after, called 911 and confessed that he had “just shot up a synagogue.” Earnest was apprehended by local law enforcement who found the rifle and additional ammunition in his car.

Investigators found a manifesto written by Earnest and posted on the Internet shortly before the attack. In the manifesto, Earnest made many anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements, including “I can only kill so many Jews” and “I only wish I killed more.”

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland stated that “this defendant’s horrific crime was an assault on fundamental principles of our nation. The Justice Department is steadfast in its commitment to confronting unlawful acts of hate and to holding perpetrators of hate-fueled violence accountable.”

US Attorney Randy Grossman thanked the prosecution team, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the FBI, the ATF, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, and the San Diego Police Department for their excellent work on this case, and said, “Today we stand with the family of Lori Gilbert Kaye, the injured, and all who suffered as a result of the defendant’s heinous crimes. The United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners reject all forms of hatred and prejudice, and we will relentlessly pursue justice for the victims of bias-motivated violence.”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said: “Hate has no place in our society and bias-motivated violence will not be tolerated. By committing these heinous and senseless acts of violence against Jewish and Muslim community members, this defendant violated our most basic American ideal: all persons are created equal. The Department of Justice is committed to aggressively prosecuting bias-motivated violence and will continue partnering with state and local law enforcement to ensure that those who seek to engage in violence based on a bias are held accountable for their crimes.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner noted that “while today’s sentence brings an end to this case, it also reaffirms the FBI’s commitment to pursue those who operate in the world of prejudice and religious hate. Hate crimes tear at the social fabric of our community. The FBI stands with our state and federal partners to ensure houses of worship are free from bias-motivated violence, and we will use all investigative tools to seek justice for the victims.”


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