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'Evil will never prevail': US rabbi hails synagogue shooting heroes

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California hailed the heroics acts of the worshippers who risked their lives to save others when a teenaged gunman opened fire on the synagogue.

Executive Director Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein (2nd R), who was shot in the hands, hugs his congregants after a press conference outside the Chabad of Poway Synagogue on 28 April, 2019 in Poway, California. Picture: AFP

LOS ANGELES – Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of the Chabad of Poway synagogue had been finalising his sermon for the last day of Passover when he heard a loud bang and stopped in his tracks.

The preacher had just passed his good friend Lori Kaye in the lobby, the pair exchanging smiles, and his immediate thought was that she "may have fell or a table tipped over."

Instead, Goldstein found himself face to face with the teenage gunman responsible for killing Kaye and wounding three others - recapping the dramatic moment for reporters on Sunday as he hailed the heroic acts of the worshippers who risked their lives to save others.

"I turn around and I see a sight that I - indescribable. Here is a young man standing with a rifle, pointing right at me," he said.

"And I look at him. He had sunglasses on, I couldn't see his eyes, I couldn't see his soul. I froze."

Goldstein's first concern was for Kaye, a 60-year-old long time congregation member, whom he described as a person of "unconditional love."

But before he could get to her, "more shots came" and he raised his hands - eventually losing his right index finger to a bullet despite a four-hour surgery to try to save it.

The badly wounded rabbi saw children were still playing in the banquet hall and he rushed to gather them and get them out - including his own four-year-old granddaughter.

He was joined in this effort by Almog Peretz, who Goldstein said was a Israeli "war veteran."

Peretz "ran into the banquet hall, gathered more children, he got a bullet in his leg, risking himself to save the children."

GUN JAMMED

It was then that the assault weapon wielded by the shooter - named as 19-year-old John Earnest - jammed, creating an opening for others to jump in, said Goldstein.

Two others attempted to stop Earnest from fleeing, including Oscar Stewart, an ex-US soldier, who tried to tackle him - and off-duty Border Patrol officer Jonathan Morales, who began coming to the synagogue after recently discovering his Jewish roots.

"I've been told that I may have saved some lives - I never thought about that I think...I just did what I did," Stewart told reporters earlier.

"I'm not a hero or anything, I just did it."

Morales meanwhile "was able to discharge his weapon and (hit) the car a few times," said Goldstein.

After the shooter had left, Goldstein returned to the lobby to find Kaye unconscious.

"And her dear husband, a brother to me, is trying to resuscitate her. And he faints and he's lying there on the floor next to his wife. And then the daughter Hannah comes out screaming, 'Daddy and Mommy, what's going on?'

"It's the most heart-wrenching sight I could have seen."

Earnest also wounded eight-year-old Noya Dahan in the leg, though she has since been discharged from hospital, as has Peretz.

Goldstein, who said he was grateful for a fifteen-minute phone call he had received from President Donald Trump, vowed his community would remain unbowed.

"We need to show them that terrorism, evil will never prevail, let's fill up the synagogues, let's stand tall, let's dance together," he added.

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