Poway synagogue shooting survivors address gunman at sentencing
Earnest pleaded guilty to killing a 60-year-old woman and injuring three others.
The survivors of a deadly shooting at a Poway, California, synagogue gave powerful victim impact statements Thursday at the sentencing of the young man who pleaded guilty to the attack.
John Earnest was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for gunning down 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injuring three others, including a child, at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego County in April 2019. The attack took place in the synagogue's lobby during Saturday morning services, on the last day of Passover.
Earnest, then 19, called 911 after the shooting to turn himself in, saying, "I just shot up a synagogue ... because the Jewish people are destroying the white race," according to the federal complaint.
One of Gilbert-Kaye's sisters, Ellen Edwards, said in court Thursday, "What do you say in front of the person who killed my sister? I hate you. That just doesn't seem enough."
"Lori was an amazing wife, mother, sister and friend," she said.
"You are an animal," she said to Earnest. "You deserve to be locked up forever ... may your existence be miserable and filled with pain."
Edwards recalled the day of the shooting, saying, "How could we tell our 92-year-old father what happened?"
"He lost his wife just six months prior. He was just getting used to the loneliness," Edwards said.
"I'll never forget that look," she said, adding that she tried to shield her father from the news on TV.
Gilbert-Kaye's only child, Hannah Kaye, who was 22 at the time of the shooting and with her mother at the synagogue, wept as she spoke in court.
"My mother had many plans, many dreams," she said. "She wanted to take the bar exam and study criminal law. She wanted to retire and become a greeter at her local Walmart ... she wanted to fly in hot air balloons ... she wanted to work in garden nurseries."
"Though my mother was murdered ... my mother's voice is loud, steady and clear in my heart," she said. "And because she cannot tell the world what she experienced the day she was murdered for being a Jew, I will do so for her ... she is here, she is alive within my words."
The day before the shooting, the mother and daughter spent an unexpected day together.
"I was not even supposed to be home," Kaye said, but her mother convinced her. The service where the shooting unfolded was an especially important one for Gilbert-Kaye as it was the first time she was honoring her recently deceased mother.
Kaye said she and her mother were extremely close. On the last night of her life, Kaye said she told her, "you are my best friend," and her mother replied the same.
At the synagogue, after Gilbert-Kaye was shot, Kaye said she rushed to her side and "I held her hand and I told her I loved her."
Gilbert-Kaye's husband of 32 years, Dr. Howard Kaye, who tried to revive his wife after the shooting, said in court that he dedicated his career to saving and improving lives and "never looked at [patients'] race, religion, origin."
He said he never imagined "evil" would take his wife's life, leaving himself and his daughter with a "deep loneliness" that gets "no better" over time.
Gilbert-Kaye was dedicated to charity and had a "powerful and positive energy," Howard Kaye said, and after her slaying, "people did good deeds in Lori's name."
Howard Kaye added, "Through our Jewish faith, we have found a way to move forward."
Almog Peretz, one of the injured, said in a statement read in court on his behalf that he's still suffering fear, anxiety and bad dreams in the wake of the shooting.
"My name was changed to 'terror attack victim,'" Peretz said.
"He may have failed to kill me ... but he killed both my body and soul," he said. "I underwent surgery on my knee and I have shrapnel in my body ... and they will stay in my body for the rest of my life."
Shooting survivor Jack Cohen, the son of Holocaust survivors, called Earnest the "epitome of the word evil."
Cohen said there are "shocking" similarities between the Holocaust and the Poway shooting.
"How naive it was for us to believe that the horrific events that occurred 75 years ago were so far removed that they could never happen again," he said.
Earnest, now 22, will be spared the death penalty due to his guilty plea. San Diego County prosecutors said Earnest admitted that he committed the crimes because of his bias and hatred of Jews.
Earnest also pleaded guilty to a 113-count federal hate crime indictment and faces federal sentencing in December. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are recommending a life sentence.