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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 21, 2019

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

Assistant U. S. Attorneys Shane Harrigan (619) 546-6981, Caroline Han (619) 546-6968  and Peter Ko (619) 546-7359  

SAN DIEGO – John T. Earnest of Rancho Peñasquitos was indicted by a federal grand jury this morning on civil rights, hate crime, and firearm charges in connection with the murder of one person and the attempted murder of 53 others at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue on April 27 and the March 24 arson of the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque in Escondido.

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 crimes of violence.

Earnest is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment June 4, 2019 at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael S. Berg.

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, and Earnest fled from the Synagogue. Earnest 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. 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.

Some of the charges, by statute, make Earnest eligible for the death penalty. The Attorney General will decide whether to seek the death penalty at a later time. Earnest 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. 

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 19cr1850                                           

John T. Earnest                                               Age: 19                                   San Diego, CA

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

Obstruction of Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs Resulting in Death and Bodily Injury; and Involving Attempt to Kill, Use of a Dangerous Weapon - 18 U.S.C. §§  247(a)(2), 247(d)(1) and 247(d)(3)

Maximum penalty: Life in prison or death and $250,000 fine

Hate Crime Acts – 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(1)(B)(i)(ii)

Maximum penalty: Life in prison and $250,000 fine

Damage to Religious Real Property Involving Use of a Dangerous Weapon or Fire – 18 U.S.C. §§ 247(a)(1), 247 (d)(3) 

Maximum penalty: Twenty years in prison and $250,000 fine

Using and Carrying a Firearm During and In Relation to a Crime of Violence – Title 18, U.S.C., Sec. and 924(c) and 924(j)

Maximum penalty: Life in prison or death and $250,000 fine, mandatory minimum 10 years in prison

Using and Carrying a Firearm During and In Relation to a Crime of Violence – Title 18, U.S.C., Sec. and 924(c)

Maximum Penalty: Life in prison and $250,000 fine, mandatory minimum 10 years in prison

AGENCIES

Federal Bureau of Investigation

San Diego County Sheriff’s Department

San Diego Police Department

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

San Diego County District Attorney’s Office

Escondido Police Department

 

 

Topic(s): 
Hate Crimes
Press Release Number: 
CAS19-0521-Earnest
Updated May 21, 2019