San Diegans Decry Guns, Hate After Poway Synagogue Shooting

More than 100 people attended a call-to-action meeting Friday in response to the deadly shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue last weekend. (Bianca Bruno/CNS)

SAN DIEGO (CN) – More than 100 people gathered Friday afternoon at a park in North San Diego to rally against recent hate crimes, including the deadly shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue last Saturday and an arson at an Escondido mosque in March, both crimes that were allegedly perpetrated by a 19-year-old nursing student.

Faith leaders from different congregations and local elected officials called on residents to hold Congress accountable for failing to curb gun violence through legislation.

Speakers at Friday’s gathering decried both the lack of political will to enact gun reform and the hate fueling increasingly common attacks on members of various faiths.

Rabbi Yuruchem Eilfort Sr. of Chabad of La Costa said he was in touch with Chabad of Poway’s faith leaders throughout the week following the shooting, which left a woman dead and several injured. The rabbi said off-duty Border Patrol agent Jonathan Morales, who was worshiping at the synagogue before the attack, stopped “a massacre of 100 people whose only crime was being Jewish and wanting to pray to God.”

“[Law enforcement] can’t be in front of every house of worship all the time – it’s just not a practical reality,” Eilfort said. “We have to be prepared.” Eilfort said.

On the last day of Passover, a San Diego Police Department officer arrested John T. Earnest shortly after the 19-year-old allegedly opened fire at the synagogue, killing congregant Lori Kaye and severely injuring the synagogue Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who put his hands up to block bullets and ended up losing his index finger.

Earnest pleaded not guilty to murder, attempted murder and arson charges. Earnest is accused of setting a fire at the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque in Escondido. He allegedly took credit for the arson in an online manifesto posted shortly before the shooting in Poway.

Brother Yusef Miller of the Islamic Society of North County said that his congregants held a vigil after the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand last month. The week after those attacks, his own mosque was set on fire.

“We wish that we could have caught this person before this tragedy happened,” Miller said.

“The Muslim community is in pain that every effort was done, from the community and law enforcement – the FBI, they were great. Every effort was put forth to try to identify this person. We didn’t have enough, but it festered into the next event: what happened in Poway to our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community.”

In December, a swastika was painted on a Poway home, Miller said.

A handful of women wearing the distinctive red “Moms Demand Action” t-shirts attended the rally in the park Friday.

represented the local chapter of the national group of parent activists advocating for gun safety.

Jesse Bry, co-leader of the local chapter of the national group of gun safety advocates, told Courthouse News the chapter formed a couple months before the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Bry said the local group hosts community trainings on safe gun storage and California’s “red flag” warning law which allows family members and law enforcement officials to file petitions for restraining orders to take away guns from people deemed safety threats.

She said California’s law is “immensely important” to stop gun violence because family members can spot warning signs that a relative might be a risk to others.

“It sucks that we have to do it at all,” Bry said.

Carlsbad Mayor Pro Tem Priya Bhat-Patel organized the event and is planning to convene a community task force of elected leaders and residents to advocate for more funding for behavioral health services in schools.

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