A family member of two injured victims in Saturday’s shooting at a synagogue in a San Diego, California, suburb said his family had moved there from a town in Israel near the Gaza border amid constant rocket attacks.
“We came from fire to fire,” said Israel Dahan, the father of 8-year-old Noya Dahan, who was hit by shrapnel in the face and leg after a shooter stormed into the Chabad of Poway as about 100 people were celebrating the last day of Passover.
Dahan made the comment on an Israeli radio program, according to The Times of Israel. He said a few years ago he moved with his family to California from Sderot, which is in southern Israel near the Gaza border. Dahan said his family’s home in the Israeli town had been hit by rockets several times over the years, and that he was injured during one of the attacks.
He added, after moving to the U.S. several years ago, the family’s new home was targeted by anti-Semites, who spray-painted swastikas on the walls.
“It can happen anywhere. We are strong,” Dahan said.
According to The Times of Israel, Noya Dahan’s injured uncle, Almog Peretz, said life in Sderot prepared him to respond to the synagogue attack. He reportedly was shot in the leg in Saturday’s shooting as he was trying to protect children in the synagogue.
Peretz said his instincts kicked in on Saturday after spending the last 15 years often rushing to shelters to hide from thousands of rockets fired by terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
The Times of Israel is reporting that from his hospital bed, Peretz told Israel’s Channel 12 that it’s “sad” but he knows “a bit about running from the Qassam rockets” because he is originally from Sderot.
“A person with a big rifle, like an M16, entered the synagogue and started shooting everywhere,” Peretz told the news outlet as he described Saturday's attack. “At first we thought the ceiling had collapsed, but then I turned around and saw he was aiming his weapon at me."
He said he noticed there were many small children next to him.
“I took a little girl who was our neighbor and three nieces of mine and ran. I opened the back door and we ran with all the children to a building in the back. I hid them in that building,” said Peretz.
“As I picked up the girl, the terrorist aimed his weapon at me. I was injured in the leg.”
Peretz said he then returned to the synagogue because another niece was still inside.
He said, “I came back because one of my nieces was stuck in the bathroom. I had to go back and bring her.”
“Fortunately she stayed there and the terrorist had already left,” he continued.
Local authorities said 19-year-old John Earnest opened fire with an assault rifle on worshippers during morning services on Saturday, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injuring the rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein; Noya Dahan; and her uncle Peretz. All three wounded victims are in stable condition, according to The Times of Israel.
Authorities said Earnest surrendered to police.
Audrey Jacobs, a woman who identified herself as Gilbert-Kaye’s friend, posted on Facebook that Gilbert-Kaye was a woman who was “always running to do a mitzvah (good deed)” and that her “final good deed was taking the bullets for Rabbi Mendel Goldstein to save his life.”
Jacobs said Gilbert-Kaye leaves behind “a devastated husband and her 22-year-old daughter.”
She added the other victims and their families want to share this message: “At the Chabad of Poway Synagogue on Shabbat (Saturday) and the last day of the Passover holiday, a 19-year-old stormed in and said ‘F--- the Jews’ and opened fire with an AR-type assault weapon.”
The post said, “He shot and killed Lori Kaye z”l (of blessed memory) who took the bullets for the Rabbi. Tragically the Rabbi was still shot in the hand and he gave a sermon telling everyone to stay strong.”
“The horror continues, the other victims suffering shrapnel injuries include a 8-year-old girl, Noya Dahan. She asked for her picture to be shared and for everyone to know she is strong. The other shrapnel victim was Almog Peretz, age 32, Noya’s uncle who came from Sderot to visit his family for the Passover holiday. He was a hero today, gathering the children and leading them to safety.”
The Facebook post also said, “During the shooting a brave off-duty border patrol agent chased and fired at the shooter as he ran off. Fortunately he was caught by the authorities and is in custody.”
“Noya’s family moved to San Diego from the Israeli city of Sderot (San Diego’s sister city) to get away from the terrorism and the constant attacks on their community. The peaceful city in Israel they’re from is in the Negev and is less than a mile from the Gaza border. For years their home has been a major target of Qassam rocket attacks from terrorists in the Gaza Strip,” Jacobs added in the Facebook post.
According to San Diego County Sheriff William Gore, Earnest, who reportedly had no previous contact with law enforcement, may be charged with a hate crime in addition to homicide. Earnest is also being investigated in connection with an arson attack on a mosque in nearby Escondido, California, on March 24.
Gore added that the off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard fired at the shooter as he fled, missing him but striking his getaway vehicle.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said, shortly after fleeing, Earnest called 911 to report the shooting and when an officer reached him on a roadway, "the suspect pulled over, jumped out of his car with his hands up and was immediately taken into custody."
Gore said authorities were reviewing copies of Earnest's social media posts, including what he described as a "manifesto."
A person identifying themselves as John Earnest posted an anti-Jewish screed online about an hour before the attack. The poster described himself as a nursing school student and praised the suspects accused of carrying out deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand last month and at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue in October.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.