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California synagogue congregants relive horror of shooting in court

A judge determined Friday there is enough evidence for the suspected shooter in the April shooting at a Southern California synagogue to stand trial.

John T. Earnest is accused of carrying out the deadly shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue that killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye and injured three others, including the synagogue’s rabbi and an 8-year-old girl.

State prosecutors charged John Earnest with one count of murder with special circumstances, three counts of attempted murder and one count of the use of explosives in acts of terrorism in specified places. The last count involves the arson at a mosque in nearby Escondido in late March.

Earnest’s attorney, public defender John O’Connell, argued that prosecutors did not show enough evidence on five charges for the case to go to trial.

Superior Court Judge Peter C. Deddeh disagreed with the defense and ruled that Earnest will have to stand trial. He set October 3 as the date when Earnest will enter a plea.

Victim’s still suffering physical and emotional damage

Survivors of the shooting testified during the two-day hearing, identifying Earnest as the gunman and describing what they witnessed that day.

Almog Peretz, who was shot in the leg, testified about grabbing a child and the hand of his 8-year-old niece Noya Dahan to lead them to safety.

Dahan is still healing from her physical wounds. Her mother told CNN Dahan had surgery to have the shrapnel in her face and leg removed because it was bothering her so much.

Dahan’s two sisters were in the synagogue at the time of the shooting.

“The youngest one won’t go back to the synagogue. She is too scared. She doesn’t like to go there anymore,” Eden Dahan said. “I am always looking around. I’m still scared.”

911 calls played in court

After the shooting, authorities say Earnest called 911. Prosecutors played the recording of the call in court. In the call, played in court, the man identifies himself as John Earnest, and calmly tells a California Highway Patrol and a sheriff’s dispatcher where he is and that he has a gun but will not shoot.

When a CHP dispatcher asks him if he is with the military, the man’s reply is chilling.

“No. I’m not. I’m just trying to defend my nation from the Jewish people.”

California Highway Patrol dispatcher: “How old are you?”

The man says, “19. They destroyed our people. I’m trying show them that we’re not going to go down without a fight.”

The call is transferred to a sheriff’s dispatcher, who asks the man ‘what’s going on?’

“I’m defending my nation against the Jewish people who are trying to destroy all white people,” he tells the dispatcher.

The surveillance video

On Thursday, prosecutors showed a surveillance video that detailed the incident. The video begins with the gunman pulling up across the street from the synagogue. He exits his car and run toward the synagogue with his rifle raised.

The gunman begins shooting even before entering the synagogue. Inside, congregant Lori Gilbert-Kaye is facing him in the foyer. She turns her back, takes two steps and is shot. She died of her wounds.

He continues shooting as he walks in. Bullets fly into the banquet hall.

Never going but a few steps into the foyer, the shooter in the video turns his gun toward the open doors of the sanctuary and continues firing.

Within about 10 seconds, based on timestamps from the surveillance video, the shooter’s gun appears to jam, and he leaves the building.

An armed congregant, identified at the time as an off-duty Border Patrol agent, runs out the door after the gunman and shoots at his car. The shooter nearly runs him over as he does a U-turn and drives away.

A few seconds after the video finished playing in the courtroom, the gunman looked back at the gallery and appeared to make a Hawaiian hand gesture that usually means “hang loose.” It is unclear who it was intended for.

Earnest smiled during some of the testimony but said nothing in court.

“Oh, my God. That video. To see from that perspective. It was so bad to see how he walked in from nowhere. He looked very angry and just starting shooting,” said Eden Dahan, who watched the video at home while caring for her children.

Prosecutors showed a photo of the gunman’s weapon left on his car’s passenger seat of the car. Another photo shown in court was of Earnest in the moments after his arrest, when he is still wearing a tactical vest that held extra ammunition.

Accused shooter’s family responds

Earnest family members say they recognize that the victims and first responders are having to relive this all over again. In a statement to CNN sent by their attorney, they said in part: “As the justice system conducts court hearings to hold our son accountable for his actions, we would like people to know we are deeply sorry that the victims of our son’s heinous actions are having to relive the awful events of that day.”

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