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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 21, 2019

California Man Indicted for Federal Hate Crimes Related to Poway Synagogue Shooting and Arson of Escondido Mosque

John T. Earnest Charged With 113 Counts Including Hate Crimes Resulting in Death

A federal grand jury sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California charged a California man with federal hate crimes and additional firearms offenses, including the murder of one person and the attempted murder of 53 others, for his actions during the April 27 shooting at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in California and the March 24 arson of the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque in Escondido. Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer Jr. for the Southern District of California, and San Diego FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner made the announcement.

John T. Earnest, 19, of Rancho Peñasquitos, California, was charged in the 113-count indictment returned today. The original complaint filed on May 7, charged Earnest with 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs using a dangerous weapon, resulting in death, bodily injury, and attempts to kill; 54 counts of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; and, one count of damage to religious property by use of fire in relation to the attempted arson of the mosque. The indictment adds four charges for discharging a firearm during those crimes of violence.

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, on April 27, Earnest drove to the Chabad of Poway Synagogue, where members of the congregation were gathered to engage in religious worship celebrating Shabbat and the last day of Passover. Earnest entered the building armed with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle that was fully loaded with a 10-round magazine. He wore a chest rig that contained five additional magazines, each loaded with 10 rounds of ammunition. The affidavit alleges that while inside the Poway Synagogue, Earnest opened fire, killing one person and injuring three other members of the congregation, including a juvenile. During a pause when Earnest unsuccessfully attempted to reload his firearm, several congregant members, including an off-duty Border Patrol Agent, chased Earnest as he fled from the Synagogue. Earnest fled the scene in his car, but was subsequently apprehended by law enforcement authorities who discovered the AR-15 and additional magazines of ammunition in his car.

The affidavit further alleges that after the shooting, law enforcement investigators found a manifesto online bearing Earnest’s name. A copy of the manifesto was later found on Earnest’s laptop during the execution of a search warrant. In the manifesto, Earnest made many anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements. Specifically, Earnest referred to “Jews” as a race, and he stated his only regret was that he did not kill more people.

According to the affidavit, Earnest also admitted in the manifesto to the arson of the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque in March 2019. The affidavit alleges that on March 24, seven individuals were inside the mosque when they smelled gasoline and saw flames coming through the crack of one of the mosque’s doors. The individuals put out the fire, but not before the fire had damaged the exterior of the mosque. The affidavit further alleges that surveillance video showed a suspect arriving at the mosque in the same type of vehicle Earnest used in committing the attack on the Synagogue. The defendant allegedly claimed in his manifesto that he was inspired by the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the recent shootings at two mosques in New Zealand.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shane Harrigan, Peter Ko, John Parmley, and Caroline Han, along with Trial Attorney Rose Gibson of the Civil Rights Division, are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government. The FBI, San Diego Sheriff’s Office, ATF, San Diego Police Department, and Escondido Police Department conducted the investigation.

Earnest faces a maximum possible penalty of death, or life without parole. He is currently in state custody pending state criminal charges. An indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.

For more information about the Department of Justice’s work to combat and prevent hate crimes, visit www.justice.gov/hatecrimes: a one-stop portal with links to Department of Justice hate crimes resources for law enforcement, media, researchers, victims, advocacy groups, and other organizations and individuals. 

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Hate Crimes
Press Release Number: 
19-555
Updated May 21, 2019