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California synagogue shooting: Rabbi describes 'heart-wrenching' scene

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Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein
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A worshipper at the California synagogue where a gunman opened fire during prayers, killing one woman, has told of the moment he confronted the teenage shooter.

Oscar Stewart fled toward the lobby as shots rang out around the synagogue on Saturday, the last day of Passover.

The Army veteran came face to face with the suspect, 19-year-old John Earnest, who escaped in a car before surrendering to police.

“He was firing when I got to him,” Stewart, 51, told reporters. “I yelled at him and he looked at me and I must have scared him he dropped his weapon and he turned and he ran away.”

He added: “I just did what I did. I’m not a hero or anything, I just did it."

Worshipper Lori Gilbert-Kaye was killed and three others wounded in the attack, on the Congregation Chabad temple in Poway, about 37km north of San Diego.

The rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, lost an index finger. He cried as he recalled the horrifying scenes at the temple in the aftermath.

“I walk into the lobby and I see Lori laying on the floor unconscious and her dear husband, Dr Howard Kaye … is trying to resuscitate her and he faints,” Goldstein told reporters.

“He’s laying there on the floor next to his wife and then their daughter Hannah comes out screaming ‘Daddy and mommy what’s going on?’ … it’s the most heart-wrenching sight I could have seen.”

Kaye was “a pioneer member from our congregation," he added. "Lori had unconditional love for all."

Police believe the gunman was not part of an organised group.

"We believe he acted alone and without outside support in carrying out the attack," San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said in a statement.

An anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim screed, written by an individual calling himself John Earnest, was found posted online, with links to the content posted on a far-right forum on the internet message board 8chan.

Earnest, who is also under investigation for arson at a mosque, was in custody on one count of murder in the first degree and three counts of attempted murder in the first degree, Gore said.

The other two wounded were an 8-year-old Israeli girl and her uncle. Their family had moved to the United States in search of a safer life after their home in Sderot on the Gaza border was hit several times by rocket attacks.

Saturday's bloodshed unfolded six months to the day after 11 worshippers were killed and six other people wounded by a gunman who stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh yelling: "All Jews must die."