Synagogue Shooting Suspect Was a Piano-Playing Nursing Student From Religious Family With a Racist Secret

The suspected shooter of the San Diego synagogue, John Earnest, is a member of Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Escondido, CA.

Zach Keele, pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where Earnest’s father was an elder, or officer of the church, confirmed that he was part of the parish. “So John T. Earnest is a member here,” he told The Daily Beast. “We completely deplore what he did. That is not part of our practices, our teachings in any way. Our hearts, our prayers, our tears go out to the victims, to all those wonderful neighbors at the synagogue.”


POWAY, California—Nineteen-year-old nursing student John T. Earnest, who was charged with murder Sunday as the lone gunman in the deadly Poway Synagogue shooting, played piano for hours a day and earned a 4.31 grade point average. His father was a church elder whom neighbors called “the sweetest man.”

But somewhere on his path, Earnest took a terrible turn, claiming Adolf Hitler as an idol and writing what appears to be his own rambling manifesto that Jews “deserved nothing but hell.” He wanted to be the one to, as he put it, “Send. Them. There.”

Police say someone purporting to be him posted the anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, white supremacist “manifesto”—which eerily mirrored the Q&A style that Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant used in his own pre-massacre diatribe—about 20 minutes before he walked into the Poway synagogue with an AR-15 style assault rifle and started shooting—killing one woman and injuring three others—before the gun malfunctioned and he was chased out by an armed security guard.

Earnest was arrested by police a few minutes after the shooting as he fled, called 911, and told them where to find him off an exit on a California highway, authorities said. As an officer approached, he exited his vehicle, raised his hands, and surrendered. A rifle was recovered from the car. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday on one count of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

In his online posting, Earnest championed the likes of Robert Bowers, who fatally shot 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh six months ago; Tarrant, who killed 50 people in a New Zealand mosque in March; and Hitler.

He used mainstream social media like Twitter and the fringe message boards 8Chan in what has become a proven way for terrorist groups and lone wolves alike to ensure that propaganda is disseminated to both those looking for it and those who are not. He posted the original screed on and, and linked to them on 8Chan. Like Tarrant, he promised to live-stream his killing spree, which he evidently failed to pull off. Facebook immediately removed the profile link he intended to use, but had somehow not seen the warning signs when he created the page.

Sheriff William Gore of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said during a press conference late Sunday that authorities were carrying out searches in the suspect’s home and “looking into digital evidence and checking the authenticity of an online manifesto.”

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