In the wake of Saturday’s tragedy, two real-life heroes emerged.
A tearful Army and Navy veteran, Oscar Stewart, told reporters that he normally sits near the front of the Synagogue, but made his way to the back of the synagogue to hear the readings of the Torah—that’s when heard a handful of gunshots.
“I just wanna thank God for the courage to do what I did. Because I don’t think there’s any other reason, other than God gave me the courage to do it,” Stewart told reporters.
The LA Times reports – Stewart watched fellow congregants of Poway Chabad jump to their feet and run toward the exits as if in slow motion, away from the violence unfolding in the lobby on Saturday morning, the last day of Passover.
The 51-year-old Army veteran began to follow them. And then, in a split-second decision, he turned around.
Whatever it was that moved through him in that moment, it propelled Stewart into the lobby. He saw the young man — who authorities say was 19-year-old John T. Earnest — in a military-style vest wielding a semiautomatic rifle.
“Get down!” Stewart yelled in the loudest tenor he could muster.
The gunman fired two more rounds in response.
“I’m going to kill you,” Stewart boomed. This seemed to rattle Earnest, who began to flee.
From his time as a sergeant in the Army, Stewart knew that the rifle would be useless if he was within five feet of it. So he kept close to the shooter as he chased him into the parking lot.
The shooter got into a Honda sedan. Stewart, seeing the man reach for his weapon, punched the side of the car. The man started the ignition and let go of the rifle.
That’s when Jonathan Morales, an off-duty Border Patrol agent, shot four bullets into the car. As the shooter sped away, Stewart and Morales took down the license plate number.
Stewart sprinted into the synagogue. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was standing in the lobby with a prayer shawl wrapped around his bleeding hands. Then Stewart noticed a woman lying face-down on the floor. He flipped her over and recognized her as Lori Gilbert-Kaye.
She had been shot near the heart.
Stewart had begun attending Poway Chabad in August, and he knew Gilbert-Kaye as a kind, passionate person. They inhabited opposite sides of the political spectrum — he a centrist Democrat, and she a conservative. But they were able to set aside their differences and appreciate their shared faith in God, an inherent goodness. He considered her a friend.
Lori Gilbert-Kaye didn’t survive the attack.