California 2019 Chabad synagogue shooter sentenced to life

"This defendant’s horrific crime was an assault on fundamental principles of our nation," Merrick Garland said.

Updated: December 28, 2021 - 9:54pm

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Californian John Earnest was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years after he pleaded guilty to 113 charges related to federal hate crimes, the Department of Justice reports.

In March 2019, Earnest attempted to burn down the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque in Escondido, California, while missionaries were asleep inside. One month later, in an attempt to murder at least 50 congregants at the Chabad of Poway, the then 19-year-old shot and killed one woman and injured three other people.

"All people in this country should be able to freely exercise their religion without fear of being attacked," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press release. "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."

Authorities report that after planning for several weeks, armed with a gun and multiple magazines, Earnest drove to the Chabad where services were being held for Passover and the Sabbath. 

He opened fire and killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, and injured three others, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and a then 8-year-old girl. 

The shooter was rushed by congregants, including Jonathan Morales who returned fire. Earnest then drove away and called 911 to say he had "just shot up a synagogue."

Police found a manifesto posted online by Earnest shortly before the Chabad attack. "In the manifesto, Earnest made many anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements, including expressing a desire to kill people because of their Jewish faith, and regret that he could not kill more," the Justice Department stated.