SAN DIEGO (AP) — A 22-year-old white supremacist was denied a chance to address a courtroom before a judge sentenced him Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for bursting into a Southern California synagogue on the last day of Passover in 2019 with a semiautomatic rifle, killing one worshipper and wounding three others.
An agreement with prosecutors that spared John T. Earnest the death penalty left little suspense about the outcome, but the hearing provided 13 victims and families a chance to address the killer and gave a sense of finality to a case illustrating how online hate speech can lead to extremist violence. Many gave heart-wrenching accounts of how their lives were upended and how determined they were to persevere despite such devastating loss.
Earnest’s attorney, John O’Connell, said his client wanted to make a statement but San Diego Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh refused, saying he did not want to create “a political forum” for white supremacist views. Earnest has not spoken publicly or disavowed earlier statements.
“I’m not going to let him use this as a platform to add to his celebrity,” the judge said, pointing to comments that Earnest made to police when he was arrested, hand gestures to the audience during a previous hearing and his probation report.
Earnest, who was tied to a device that prevented him from turning to the audience, showed no visible reaction during the two-hour hearing as speakers called him a lowlife coward, an evil animal and a monster.
A prosecutor asked Deddeh to reconsider his refusal to let Earnest speak after conferring with the defense attorney about the substance of his remarks, but the judge didn’t budge.
San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, who listened to victims from a front-row seat, told reporters that Earnest’s planned statement was “more spewing of hatred and propaganda” and that the judge made the right call. The prosecutor asked the judge to reconsider only to guard against any possibility that Earnest alleges he was treated improperly, she said.
Earnest’s court-appointed attorney declined to speak with reporters. His parents did not attend.
Minutes after the shooting, Earnest called a 911 dispatcher to say he shot up the synagogue to save white people. “I’m defending our nation against the Jewish people, who are trying to destroy all white people,” he said.
The San Diego man was inspired by mass shootings at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh and two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, shortly before he attacked Chabad of Poway, a synagogue near San Diego, on April 27, 2019. He frequented 8chan, a dark corner of the internet, for those disaffected by mainstream social media sites to post extremist, racist and violent views.
Earnest legally bought a semi-automatic rifle in San Diego a day before the attack, according to a federal affidavit. He entered the synagogue with 10 bullets loaded and 50 more on his vest but fled after struggling to reload. Worshippers chased him to his car.
Earnest killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was hit twice in the foyer, and wounded an 8-year-old girl, her uncle and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading a service on the major Jewish holiday.
Dr. Howard Kaye, Lori’s husband of 32 years, said he has continued his rheumatology practice to help people heal regardless of their backgrounds in keeping with his faith but that it was difficult for him and their daughter to carry on at times. Lori was active in charities and sacrificed a banking career to raise their daughter, he said.
“This is a superior person and a wonderful woman,” Howard Kaye said.
Hannah Kaye said her mother was victim of “an ancient hatred” of Jews. She recounted their last day together on a visit home from college in exquisite detail: their “deep and humorous conversation” in the car, a final hug as her mother dressed for services and how she held her mother’s head and said she loved her as she lay dying.
As she entered her seventh decade, Lori Gilbert-Kaye had lots of desires, Hannah said, including wanting to attend law school, ride a hot air balloon and own a restaurant that served her father’s barbecue.
“She wanted to live another day, she wanted to survive,” Hannah said of her mother’s last moments.
Almog Peretz, who was shot with his 8-year-old niece, was emotionally unprepared to attend the hearing but a Hebrew translator read his statement about how the episode killed “my body and soul.” He said his dreams are haunted and that others now define him as a “terrorist’s victim.”
“I have no motivation to see things to the end,” Peretz said, speaking of work and friendships.
Earnest’s parents issued a statement after the shooting expressing shock and sadness, calling their son’s actions a “terrifying mystery.” Their son was an accomplished student, athlete and musician who was studying to be a nurse at California State University, San Marcos.
“To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries,” they said.
In a statement issued by their lawyer late Thursday, the family said “our hearts are heavy and our sadness profound.”
“Right now, we cannot add to the words we have previously expressed, except to say that the hate that motivated him will not win. Love must win,” the statement said.
His conviction for murder and attempted murder at the synagogue and arson for an earlier fire at a nearby mosque carry a life sentence without parole, plus 137 years in prison.
Earnest also faces sentencing in federal court on Dec. 28, having pleaded guilty after the Justice Department said it wouldn’t seek the death penalty. Defense attorneys and prosecutors are recommending a life sentence.
Stephan, the district attorney, said prosecution in state and federal court “makes me sleep better at night.”
The attack was “racism, antisemitism and every kind of hate all wrapped into one,” she said.
MOSCOW (AP) — A student opened fire Monday at a university in Russia, leaving six people dead and 28 hurt before being shot by police and detained, officials said. Other students and staff locked themselves in rooms during the attack and video on Russian news sites showed some students jumping out of second-story windows.
Beyond saying that he was a student, Russian authorities offered no further information on his identity or a possible motive.
In some footage, a black-clad helmeted figure could be seen striding on a sidewalk at Perm State University, cradling a long-barreled weapon. Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top body for criminal probes, said the gunman fired a smoothbore hunting weapon. That could indicate he used a shotgun.
The university, which has 12,000 students, said about 3,000 people were on campus at the time. The school is in Perm, a city of 1 million residents located 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) east of Moscow.
The Investigative Committee said six people were killed, revising down its earlier figure of eight dead. No explanation was given for the change. It said 28 people were injured and some of them were hospitalized. The Health Ministry said 19 of them were shot; it was not clear how the others were injured.
In a video released by the Interior Ministry, a witness whose name was not given said he saw the man outside after shooting two people and that he appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest.
A traffic police unit was the first to reach the scene and the suspect opened fire on them, according to the Interior Ministry. He was wounded when police returned fire and then was disarmed. The gunman also had a knife, the ministry said.
One traffic officer said people rushed out of the university building as gunshots were heard.
“I entered the building and saw an armed young man walking down the stairs. I shouted at him ‘Drop it!’” That’s when he pointed the gun at me and fired. At that point I used my gun,” officer Konstantin Kalinin said in the ministry video.
“I feel shock, disdain and anger,” university student Olga Kechatova said later at a makeshift memorial outside the university. “People who study with me at the university suffered and died for nothing.”
Although firearms laws are strict in Russia, many people obtain permits for hunting. News reports cited officials as saying the suspect had a permit for a pump-action shotgun, although it was not clear if that was for the weapon used.
School shootings are infrequent in Russia, but the Perm attack was the third such shooting in recent years. In May, a gunman opened fire at a school in the city of Kazan, killing seven students and two teachers with a registered weapon. A student at a college in Russia-annexed Crimea killed 20 students and himself in 2018.
After the Kazan shooting, President Vladimir Putin called on the national guard to tighten gun regulations. Russia then passed a law raising the minimum gun purchase age from 18 to 21.
The Russian leader offered his condolences on Monday.
“It is a tremendous tragedy, not only for the families who lost their children but for the entire country,” Putin said.
GILROY — Nineteen days before the rampage at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, 19-year-old Santino William Legan bought an AK-47-style assault rifle at a Nevada gun shop.
He brought it back to California and to Gilroy, the town where he grew up, police said. On Sunday evening, clad in partial fatigues, he carried the weapon to a creek near the festival’s grounds and cut a path through a security fence. With the sounds of lively rock music and smell of garlic in the air, he walked toward a music stage — and began America’s latest inexplicable slaughter.
“I think everyone wants to know why,” said Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee, who said Monday authorities still are investigating what drove Legan’s deadly motivations.
The teen sprayed gunfire, killing a 6-year-old boy near a bounce house and wounding the boy’s mother and grandmother. He killed a 13-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man, whom festivalgoers frantically carried to the back of a white pickup truck and tried to save with CPR.
He wounded more than a dozen others, including a 12-year-old girl who was shy by nature, and now her family can barely get her to speak, and a cheerleader, a junior from Gilroy High School who was volunteering in a booth selling garlic braids and aprons. She lay bleeding on the dusty fairgrounds for 15 minutes while a friend’s mom used her hand as a compress and kept calling out, “We need help! I need help!”
A man cries after putting up a “Gilroy Strong” banner before a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
Robert Ramirez, sits with his son Robbie, 10, during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
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People listen to speakers during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
People wait for the start of a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
People raise their hands when asked who attended the Gilroy Garlic Festival during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
People attended a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
A man listens to speakers during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
People hug before a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
People listen to speakers during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
Ron Esparza, 61, of Gilroy attended a vigil Monday, July 29, 2019 in Gilroy after the Garlic Festival Shootings. He had saved the candle he used a month ago for the vigil after the shootings in Morgan Hill at the Ford Store. (Jason Green/Bay Area News Group)
Artist Ignacio “Nacho” Moya carries a sign he made during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
“I saw stuff that no one should ever see,” said that mother, Molly Guerin, 40, from Morgan Hill, who says the moment she ducked behind the cash register, she saw the glint of a bullet fly overhead. “I saw blood and people screaming. I’m not going to get the images out of my mind, and the sounds of the gunshots were terrifying. I feel nauseous, and I don’t know how to describe it.”
The carnage ended quickly, police say, when three Gilroy Police officers with handguns who had been on routine festival duty engaged in a gunfight and shot dead the teenager armed with a semi-automatic weapon built for battle.
“It could have gotten so much worse, so fast,” Smithee said. “I’m really proud that they got there as quickly as they did. There absolutely would have been more bloodshed.”
Legan — a 2017 graduate of Gilroy High School who posted support for white supremacist literature on a now-deactivated Instagram page — died close to where he opened fire, surrounded by hay bales near the Vineyard Stage that some of his victims had been sitting on and enjoying the last 19 minutes of the three-day festival.
The massacre is the latest in a series of deadly mass shootings, reigniting the national debate over gun-control and adding to the tension between California, with some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and neighboring states such as Nevada that are more permissive.
Smithee described the gun Legan used as an AK-47 style assault rifle “that had been purchased legally in Nevada on July 9” — although it would have been illegal to bring across state lines to California. FBI agents early Monday raided a unit in a triplex in Walker Lake, Nevada, that Legan was believed to have used “during the days prior” to the Gilroy shootings.
Around the same time, officers and agents searched the Gilroy home of Legan’s family Monday morning. It’s unclear when Legan moved to Nevada and when he returned, Smithee said. He would likely have had to have been a resident of Nevada to purchase the gun legally.
Why he came home to the Garlic Festival, to carry out his deadly shooting spree, was a question authorities couldn’t answer.
The event that draws 100,000 people over three days is considered one of the largest food festivals in the country and a “homecoming” for locals who attend every year.
The suspect is the grandson of former Santa Clara County Supervisor Tom Legan, who died last year. The three victims include 6-year-old Stephen Romero, who is related to San Jose City Councilwoman Maya Esparza, and Keyla Salazar, 13, who is also from San Jose. Also killed was Trevor Irby, 25, who was from upstate New York but recently living in Santa Cruz with his girlfriend.
Nearly two dozen people were injured, including 11 who were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. At least one remained in critical condition Monday. Many of the shooting survivors were improving Monday, hospital officials said.
“I’ve been doing this 20 years, and it’s just sickening,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom, who visited five gunshot victims at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.
“Nothing I can say can change what’s happened,” he told reporters about his conversations with victims inside. “I don’t know what I can possibly say to make you feel better except, God bless you, and I’m so sorry, not only what’s happened to you, but what’s happening in this country, in this state, in this nation of ours. We’re here for you.”
The horror started Sunday evening for Alberto Romero at home in San Jose when his wife, Barbara Aguirre, called to say their 6-year-old son, Stephen, had been shot in the back and taken away by paramedics. She had been shot in the stomach and hand and her mother in the leg.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening, that what she was saying was a lie, that maybe I was dreaming,” said Romero, a San Jose electrician who was home with their 9-year-old daughter when he received his wife’s call. He was first summoned Sunday night to St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, where doctors tried desperately to save his son — a playful boy who looked forward to starting first grade.
“They said they were working on him,” Romero said, “and five minutes later they told me he was dead.”
Shortly before midnight, he was racing to his wife’s bedside at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
Ken Christopher, scion of the Christopher Ranch garlic empire, missed the shooting by two hours. He had spent half the day Sunday at the festival taking U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, of Monterey, and Panetta’s middle-school age daughter on a tour of the festival grounds. They started at the heart of the event, “Gourmet Alley,” sampling the garlic scampi before finishing off with a cone of the famous garlic ice cream. Christopher’s grandfather, Don Christopher, had co-founded the festival in 1979. The family’s Christopher Ranch brand of fresh, chopped and minced garlic fills grocery store shelves around the world.
“I was so excited to show off to him, and he was so dazzled by everything,” said Ken Christopher, choking up. “Last night, I had to call him and apologize because I put his daughter in harm’s way.”
The garlic festival has raised millions of dollars for local nonprofits and includes 4,000 volunteers, many of whom work in booths that raise money for their local organizations.
“It’s innocent. It’s community. It’s an escape from the entire world,” Christopher said. “To see something like this strike at the heart of our identity — it’s a violation. Three days celebrating food and music — and now it’s shattered.”
At the Vineyard stage at just about 5:40 p.m., the band TinMan had started its final song of the festival, the classic rock tune “American Band,” when the shooter came in from the side and started shooting.
“We had a few hundred people still dancing and in the audience, and everybody panicked and fled,” said Bill Weir, a south San Jose resident who has played bass and sung with the band for 13 years.
About a dozen people, including the band and sound crew, he said, hid under the stage as bullets ricocheted off the ground.
“The gunman was very close, and it wouldn’t have taken but a swing (around) to open fire on the stage,” said Weir, crediting police with arriving so quickly and probably saving the lives of the band. “I’m sad and angry that we have victims, including children that pay the price. And I’m angry that guns find their way into the hands of people who obviously should not have them.”
Many of those fleeing the gunfire were volunteers, vendors and so-called “pyro chefs” wearing aprons from a day spent grilling garlic steak sandwiches and delighting crowds by setting pans ablaze while making garlicky calamari.
“One minute we were making funnel cakes. One minute we were on the ground protecting our son from a stray bullet,” said Dave Davies, 60, who has worked as a funnel cake vendor at the festival since 1993.
On Monday, he and about 20 other vendors were staying at a Red Cross Shelter set up at nearby Christopher High School, where pizza, pastries and more were being served as they waited for police to reopen the festival grounds so they could retrieve their vehicles and gear.
The tragedy left everyone shaken and brought out their humanity.
Guerin’s 16-year-old daughter, Caitlin Hinz, who also is on the Gilroy High cheerleading squad, said Monday that she and her cheerleading friends who had been holed up in a tent with emergency crews left the park “crying and holding each other.”
“There was a lady, an older lady walking. She had fallen on her face,” Hinz said. “Me and my friends carried her all the way back down the hill to the fire booth. We stayed with her.”
She also watched in horror as a woman tried to revive Irby, the 25-year-old from Santa Cruz, in the back of a pick-up truck.
Adella Garland, a trauma surgeon at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said Monday she was especially struck by the emotional impact on children.
“You know before that time, they were just thinking about how garlic ice cream would taste,” Garland said. “And now their lives are changed forever by this experience.”
Hundreds turned out 24 hours after the shootings for a vigil Monday evening. It was the second one in just over a month that Ron Esparza, 61, of Gilroy, had attended. Just 12 miles north, community members had gathered in late June after a disgruntled employee killed two supervisors and then himself at the Ford Store in Morgan Hill.
Esparza kept the candle from that night.
“I couldn’t throw it away,” he said. “It’s been in my car. I didn’t think I’d need it so soon.”
Staff writers Joseph Geha, Robert Salonga, Emily DeRuy and Maggie Angst contributed to this report.
A law enforcement official said the suspect was identified as Jarrod W. Ramos. The official was not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Tom Marquardt, retired publisher and top editor at the paper, told The Capital Gazette on Thursday that he had long been concerned about Ramos’ history of escalating social media attacks against the newspaper and its journalists.
He called police about Ramos in 2013 and considered filing a restraining order against him.
“I was seriously concerned he would threaten us with physical violence,” Marquardt said. “I even told my wife, ‘We have to be concerned. This guy could really hurt us.’ “
Ramos filed a failed lawsuit against the paper in 2012, alleging the newspaper, a columnist and an editor defamed him in an article about his conviction in a criminal harassment case in 2011.
According to court documents, five days after Ramos pleaded guilty to criminal harassment, the newspaper published a story describing allegations by a woman who claimed Ramos harassed her online for months.
The article said Ramos had contacted the woman on Facebook and thanked her “for being the only person ever to say, ‘Hello,’ or be nice to him in school.”
The woman told the newspaper that Ramos appeared to be having some problems, so she wrote back and tried to help, suggesting a counseling center. She said that set off months of emails in which Ramos sometimes asked for help, but other times called her vulgar names and told her to kill herself. She told The Capital that she told him to stop, but the emails continued. She said she called police and the emails stopped for months, but then started up again “nastier than ever,” the article said.
In his lawsuit, Ramos said the article contained false and defamatory statements and injured his reputation.
A judge dismissed the suit. The judge asked Ramos to point out a single statement in the article that was false or to give a single example of how it had harmed him. “He could not do so,” an appeals court wrote in upholding the dismissal.
In the article, Ramos was described as a tall, thin man with long hair worn in a ponytail. His lawyer told the newspaper that Ramos has a degree in computer engineering and had worked for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for six years. His lawyer also said Ramos had no previous criminal record.
Ramos took to Twitter, where he routinely harassed journalists from the newspaper in scores of profanity-laced tweets. One of those tweets targeted one of the journalists killed Thursday, Rob Hiaasen. In another tweet, he discussed how he’d enjoy seeing the paper stop publishing, but “it would be nicer” to see two journalists “cease breathing.”
Online court records in Maryland show that three peace orders were taken out against Ramos — one each in 2011, 2012 and 2013. A judge can issue such protection, ordering someone to stay away from someone else and to avoid contacting them. In at least two instances, Ramos appealed the orders. It wasn’t clear whom the cases involved or what the ultimate outcomes were.
Then, in 2013, Ramos sued Anne Arundel County District Judge John McKenna. Online court records did not indicate the nature or result of that suit.
Ramos filed another lawsuit in 2014 against three defendants. A judge in Prince George’s dismissed that case two years later when Ramos failed to show up for court.