POWAY, California—One day after a gunman entered his synagogue and murdered one of his congregants on the final day of Passover, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein recounted the moments of terror as he returned to the Chabad of Poway to memorialize Lori Kaye, the 60-year-old woman who saved his life when she leapt between him and the shooter.
Goldstein said he saw Kaye, whom he’d known for nearly 25 years and who had helped secure the loan for the synagogue decades ago, just a day before the attack. Saturday’s service was a memorial service for Kaye’s mother, who had recently passed away. Kaye had invited her only daughter, who drove in from Los Angeles where she’s a student at UCLA.
On Saturday, he said, he walked into the synagogue’s banquet hall to wash his hands. “I walk two, three footsteps when I hear a loud bang, I thought Lori may have fell, or the table tipped over in the lobby right here,” he said. “I turn around and I see a sight that is indescribable. Here is a young man standing with a rifle, pointing right at me. I look at him. He has sunglasses on. I couldn’t see his eyes. I couldn’t see his soul.”
He froze for a few moments, then raised his hands in surrender—which is when he took the bullet that would eventually cause him to lose part of the index finger on his right hand.
“I turned around and went to get the children that were playing in the banquet hall,” he said. “My granddaughter, four and a half years old, sees her grandpa with a bleeding hand, and she sees me screaming and shouting ‘get out, get out.’ She doesn’t deserve to see her grandfather like this.”
“Miraculously,” the shooter’s gun jammed, he said—which gave a man Goldstein identified as off-duty border patrol agent Jonathan Morales a chance to jump up and pursue the shooter, who turned and fled. Police have said he was working as a security guard, but it was not completely clear on Sunday.
“[The shooter] was standing right there in the lobby,” he said. “He was aiming at me in the banquet hall. He could have easily gone left and gone into the sanctuary where the seats were full for the memorial service and he could have used all the clips he had. It could have been such a bloodbath. I don’t even want to think about how that would be.”
Once the shooter left the synagogue, Goldstein said, he went back to check on Kaye. He found her on the floor unconscious next to her husband, a doctor who tried in vain to resuscitate her before fainting from the trauma.
“He faints, and he’s lying on the floor next to his wife, and then their daughter Hannah comes out screaming ‘Daddy and Mommy let’s go,’” he said. “It’s the most heart-wrenching sight I could have seen. I was frozen in time.” Kaye died of her injuries hours later.
“I grabbed a prayer shawl,” he added. “My congregation was standing out here, and and I said. ‘I got to do something.’ I got up on a chair right here, and I looked at our congregation, and I said we are a Jewish nation that will stand tall. We will not let anyone take us down. Terrorism will not take us down.”
Goldstein urged all members of the Jewish faith to go to their local synagogues this coming Friday night and Saturday in a show of strength.
“We need to fill up those rooms,” he said. “We need to show them that terrorism and evil will never prevail. Let’s fill up the synagogues. Let’s stand tall. Let’s dance together.”
He said for those Jews who haven’t been to synagogue for a long time, now was the time to visit.
“This is a personal request from myself as a rabbi asking you to come synagogue this weekend to show solidarity,” Goldstein said. “God will inspire you and bless you.”
Goldstein later added that President Trump called him to express his condolences in the aftermath of the attack, and that in a 10- to 15-minute conversation, Trump “shared with me condolences on behalf of the United States of America,” and “spoke about his love of peace and Judaism and Israel.”
“He was just so comforting,” Goldstein added. “I’m really grateful for our president for taking the time and making the effort to share with us his comfort and consolation.”
Nineteen-year-old nursing student John T. Earnest was arrested minutes after the shooting, and charged Sunday with Kaye’s murder, as well as three other counts of attempted murder. Police say he’s the only suspect in the case. He will be arraigned on Wednesday.