After a 19-year-old gunman fired at least eight rounds into a California synagogue, he stopped to fumble with his semiautomatic rifle and then fled with 50 unused bullets, prosecutors said Tuesday.
In his first court appearance, John T. Earnest pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder in the shooting that killed a worshipper and injured three others at the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover. He also pleaded not guilty to burning a mosque last month in nearby Escondido.
Earnest fired eight to 10 shots inside the synagogue near San Diego on Saturday, hitting Lori Kaye, 60, twice as she prayed in the foyer, prosecutors say. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein lost an index finger.
Then Earnest turned toward a room of children and some adults, where Almog Peretz tried to protect his niece and other kids, prosecutors said. He and his niece Noya Dahan, 8, suffered shrapnel wounds.
It was unclear if the weapon jammed or malfunctioned or if the gunman didn’t know how to reload.
“Something happened to interrupt his use of that gun,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan told reporters.
He fled, and several people pursued him, including an off-duty Border Patrol agent who fired at him but missed, striking the gunman’s getaway car, authorities said.
Earnest legally purchased the gun, Stephan said, declining to elaborate. She said he wore a tactical vest and carried five loaded magazines with 10 bullets each.
Earnest, wearing glasses and standing inside a glass cabin in court, showed no emotion as a prosecutor recounted Saturday’s attack in Poway, a suburb north of San Diego. He spoke only once, acknowledging he was waiving his right to a speedy preliminary hearing, where prosecutors lay out their evidence.