NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES – The woman who was killed in a deadly shooting at a Southern California synagogue will be buried on Monday after being hailed as a hero, as police continue to investigate the motive of the 19-year-old suspect.
Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, attended services at Chabad of Poway in suburban San Diego on Saturday, the last day of the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover, to honor her recently deceased mother.
She was one of four people shot, and the only one killed, when a gunman stormed in with an assault-style rifle, six months to the day after 11 worshippers were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest attack on American Jewry. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was shot in both hands during the attack and lost a finger, described seeing Kaye’s lifeless body on the floor, as her husband tried to resuscitate her before fainting.
“It’s the most heart-wrenching sight I could have seen,” Goldstein told reporters on Sunday. “Lori took the bullet for all of us. … She died to protect all of us.”
The gunman, identified by police as John Earnest, fled the scene and eventually called police in order to surrender.
Earnest, who is being held without bail, appears to have authored an online manifesto in which he claimed responsibility for a predawn arson fire at a nearby mosque last month and drew inspiration from the mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people in March.
Kaye was not the only worshipper to earn praise for bravery under fire.
When the gunfire began, Oscar Stewart, 51, a veteran of both the U.S. Navy and Army who served a tour in Iraq, recognized the sound immediately.
He said in a Monday interview that for a moment he began running toward the exit with other congregants before he turned around and headed toward the gunfire — for reasons he still cannot quite explain.
“I was an instrument of God,” he said. “I had no conscious effort in what I was doing.”
He charged the gunman, screaming, “I’m going to kill you!”
The shooter, who had stopped firing, looked frightened and fled the synagogue, with Stewart in close pursuit, he said.
Another worshipper, an off-duty U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent named Jonathan Morales, also ran outside after the gunman. Morales, who was armed, fired several shots at the gunman’s car as he drove away.
Almog Peretz, an Israeli citizen visiting his family, was hit by shrapnel but still managed to help shepherd children to safety, witnesses said.
His 9-year-old niece, Noya Dahan, also was wounded by shrapnel. Her family moved to the United States from Israel in search of a safer life after their home was repeatedly shelled by Palestinian rockets.
At a vigil on Sunday, Dahan rode on her father’s shoulders, wrapped in an Israeli flag, as people cheered.
Kaye, one of the synagogue’s founding members, was a deeply caring member of the community, her friends said. When one congregant developed breast cancer, Kaye drove her to every appointment and helped take care of her children, Goldstein said.
“She is a person of unconditional love,” Goldstein said.
In a Facebook post, a friend, Audrey Jacobs, called her a “woman of valor” whose final act was to protect others.
“You were always running to do a mitzvah (good deed) and gave tzedaka (charity) to everyone,” she wrote.
Her funeral will take place at the synagogue on Monday afternoon.
Earnest is scheduled to appear in a San Diego court on Wednesday. Authorities believe he acted alone.