POWAY — Bereaved relatives, grieving fellow congregants and an array of political leaders gathered on Monday, April 29, to mourn the death and celebrate the life of a woman gunned down at a Poway synagogue on the final day of Passover during a shooting rampage allegedly fueled by anti-Semitism.
Lori Gilbert Kaye, described by her rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, as one of Chabad of Poway’s “pioneers,” was a former bank employee who helped get the congregation a loan to build its house of worship in northern San Diego County.
The afternoon funeral for Kaye, 60, took place just two days after a gunman opened fire with an assault rifle at the synagogue, killing her and wounding three others, including Goldstein. Some witnesses said Kaye suffered the fatal wound while trying to protect the rabbi from the gunfire.
Kaye was shot late Saturday morning while at the temple with her husband and daughter to honor her recently deceased mother, according to Goldstein, who lost one index finger in the shooting and spent hours in surgery as doctors worked to save the other.
After the shooter’s gun jammed, he was chased out of the building by a Border Patrol agent who is a member of the congregation. The suspect, John T. Earnest of Rancho Penasquitos, fled in a vehicle but was arrested nearby a short time later.
Another worshipper, 34-year-old Almog Peretz, suffered a gunshot wound while shepherding children to safety, including his 8-year-old niece, Noya Dahan, who was hit by shrapnel. Both have been released from hospital care and are expected to recover.
During the memorial service, Goldstein, at times gesturing with his mutilated and bandaged right hand, told the overflow crowd there were “no adequate words to describe what we all endured in this room this past (Sabbath).”
During the attack, the congregation “saw the darkest of humanity,”
Goldstein told the gathering, which was attended by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, several members of the county Board of Supervisors and other local and state elected leaders.
“I saw it face to face,” the rabbi said. “I wish to never see that ever again. I wish no one ever sees that ever again. At the same moment, we saw the heroic efforts of humanity, running into the line of fire to spare other lives, putting their lives in danger. This is the best of humanity.”
The rabbi insisted the congregation will rise above the trauma wreaked by the tragedy.
“What we are going to take from this event is (that) it’s not going to knock us down,” he said. “It’s going to lift us up.”
The victim’s husband praised his late wife as a highly generous and loving person.
“She had a soul that was greater than any of us ever could believe,” said Howard Kaye, a physician who tried in vain to save his spouse’s life with CPR while she lay mortally wounded at the temple.
The grieving husband also had a message for perpetrators of the type of crime that took his wife’s life.
“And for all of the people who perpetrate hate through this world, you’re feeding on blood,” he said. “You’re lowering yourselves to a level below an animal, and for that reason get out while you can. Turn your life around. Come back into the real world, the world of Lori, which is peace and love on Earth.”
One of the victim’s sisters told the gathering that Kaye “was taken from us in a tragic way, but not in vain.”
“This is a house of God,” Randi Grossman said. “We are a people who believe in God. And we believe God does things for the good. If he chose Lori … there is a reason. And although we don’t know what the reason is, we know that it’s for the greater good. Lori died on (the Sabbath). Lori died on Passover. Lori died in a synagogue. And Lori died saving our rabbi.”
Donna Doan, a self-described Catholic, told a reporter she attended the funeral in support of the Jewish community.
“I feel like I have to be here,” the Rancho Bernardo woman said outside the synagogue.
Another attendee, a Carlsbad resident and Christian who identified herself only as Caryn, said she was at the memorial to show support for the victimized congregation.
“I love the Jewish community,” she said. “I hate to see senseless and irrational crimes committed.”
The alleged shooter is being held without bail at San Diego Central Jail and is scheduled make his initial court appearance in the case Wednesday.
He was booked on suspicion of one count of murder and three charges of attempted murder.
Though he allegedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs during the rampage — including a statement that Jews were “ruining the world” — Earnest was not believed to be part of an organized hate group, according to law enforcement officials.
“We believe he acted alone and without outside support in carrying out the attack,” according to a county Sheriff’s Department statement.
The family of the alleged shooter issued a statement decrying the deadly assault and bemoaning Earnest’s alleged culpability in the crime, which could result in the death penalty.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the terrible attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue,” they wrote. “But our sadness pales in comparison to the grief and anguish our son has caused for so many innocent people.”
Earnest, 19, stood stone-faced during a brief court hearing on April 30 and a not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf by a public defender.
The only word Earnest uttered was “yes,” when asked if he agreed to a longer-than-usual delay before his next court hearing. That hearing was set for May 30.