victim testifies he rushed children out of harm’s way as ‘bullets were flying’
A San Diego judge on Friday ordered a 20-year-old man to stand trial on charges of murder and attempted murder in the April shootings at a Poway synagogue.
John Timothy Earnest, of Rancho Peñasquitos, also faces one count of arson from a fire at an Escondido mosque on March 24.
A preliminary hearing for Earnest wrapped up after a final prosecution witness testified, through an interpreter, about being shot in a leg at Chabad of Poway on April 27.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh determined there was enough evidence presented at the hearing for Earnest’s case to move forward. Because of special-circumstance allegations of murder committed as a hate crime, prosecutors have the option of seeking the death penalty in his case.
That decision has not yet been made, Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh said after the hearing.
Authorities believe the shootings were prompted by Earnest’s hatred of Jewish people, as expressed in an online “open letter” that he posted before the incident. In the letter, he said he made up his mind to commit the shooting after 51 people were killed and 49 injured in a March 15 shooting at a New Zealand mosque by a suspected white supremacist.
Earnest’s parents, who did not attend the hearing, issued an emailed statement Friday through an attorney, saying in part that, “As the justice systems conducts court hearings to hold our son accountable for his actions, we would would like people to know that we are deeply sorry that the victims of our son’s heinous actions are having to relive the awful events of that day.”
The statement continued, “We are deeply sorry that law enforcement officers and medical (personnel) are having to recall the terrible images they saw as they give testimony at the preliminary hearing.
“These thoughts and images overwhelm anyone seeing them, certainly the public and the first responders, but especially the family and friends of the victims. We are profoundly sorry for the grief everyone is suffering and we hope and pray for peace for everyone.”
The email said the parents would have no further public comment until the criminal case is resolved.
Witnesses testified on Thursday, the first day of the hearing, about the “chaos” that erupted inside the synagogue when the gunman opened fire, killing one person and wounding three others. Earnest was arrested in Rancho Bernardo shortly after the 11:20 a.m. shooting, with an AR-15 rifle, tactical helmet and five 10-cartridge magazines in his car.
He had called 911 and told a dispatcher: “I opened fire in a synagogue. I think I killed some people. Some man returned fire with a pistol. I got in my car and drove away.”
He surrendered peacefully to a San Diego police officer who found Earnest parked at West Bernardo Center Road and Rancho Bernardo Drive.