San Diego

Poway Synagogue Shooting Heroes, Rabbi Speak at White House's National Day of Prayer Service

It was the first time Border Patrol agent Jonathan Morales had spoken publicly about the tragic shooting at his place of worship

The two people declared heroes for charging at a gunman who opened fire on congregants at a Poway synagogue and the rabbi who was hurt in the attack were invited by President Donald Trump to speak at a prayer service on Thursday.

The National Day of Prayer service was held on the White House front lawn less than a week after the shooting at Chabad of Poway that killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye  and injured three others, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein who was in attendance Thursday. 

Army Veteran Oscar Stewart and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer Jonathan Morales, who chased the shooter away from the synagogue, were also at the service.

"This morning, we are privileged to be in the presence of heroes who raced after the murder and helped disrupt the attack at the Poway synagogue – Army veteran Oscar Stewart and border patrol agent Jonathan Morales," President Trump said before inviting the two to the podium.

It was the first time Morales had spoken publicly about the tragic shooting at his place of worship. 

"It was supposed to be a joyous, festive event and we were attacked with our backs turned," Morales said. 

About 100 worshipers were gathered at the synagogue to celebrate the end of Passover when a man armed with an assault rifle entered the synagogue and began firing. 

Stewart ran towards the gunfire shouting curse words and chasing out the shooter until he got to a car and turned the ignition. 

Morales then emerged from the synagogue and shouted for the Army vet to step back because he had a weapon, Stewart said. Morales shot at the shooter's car before it took off. 

"We need to be strong because that’s the only way we can defeat evil," Stewart said at the prayer service. "Do not be afraid to be who you are. Be proud and lift yourself up."

Rabbi Goldstein's index finger was blown off in the shooting. Noya Dahan, 8, and her uncle, 34-year-old Almog Peretz, were also hurt but have since been released from the hospital after treatment for shrapnel injuries. 

"I should've been dead by now, based on the rule of statistics. I was in the line of fire, bullets flying all the way. My fingers got blown off, but I did not stop," Goldstein told the crowd. "The rabbi taught me, as a Jew, you are a solider of God. You need to stand tall and stand fast, and do whatever it takes to change the world."

He thanked President Trump for what he said was the beginning of his healing process. 

"Mr. President, when you called me, I was at home weeping. You were the first person who began my healing. You heal people in their worst of times and I am so grateful for that."

Trump condemned the deadly synagogue attack and others in recent years on places of worship, including attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka last Easter and on Muslims in New Zealand last month. He also cited the burning of three black churches in Louisiana and last year's shooting spree at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Speaking to the press outside the White House after the event, Goldstein said, "To hear the President talk about Chabad of Poway, talk about our synagogue in San Diego, and to talk about Lori Kaye, is what American spirit is truly about. We are one nation, we are one for all, and all for one."

Golstein called on the Jewish-American community to challenge acts of terror by continuing to show up to temples. 

"Let's show the terrorists that if they try to scar us by showing up to our house of worship, we're going to fill up the rooms," he said. 

Chabad of Poway was looking into getting counselors and security as a result of the attacks, Goldstein said, but he acknowledged he "didn't want the synagogue to become a fortress."

The alleged gunman, John T. Earnest, 19, of San Diego was charged Tuesday with one count of murder with a hate-crime special circumstance and gun allegations, three counts of attempted murder with hate-crime and gun allegations and one count of arson of a house of worship.

The charges also stem from an arson incident at a mosque in Escondido last month. The two locations were less than nine miles apart. 

Prosecutors said the suspect on Saturday allegedly fired eight to 10 rounds before the rifle appeared to jam or malfunction and the suspect couldn't fix it. The entire incident was captured on surveillance video, prosecutors said. 

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