Doctor rushes to perform CPR on woman shot in California synagogue, unaware patient was his wife

After shots rang out at the synagogue in Poway, a doctor jumped into action to help a fallen victim. The doctor began performing CPR on the woman struck by gunfire when he realized that the patient was his wife. (Credit: Dr. Roneet Lev)

Congregants of a San Diego synagogue gathered on April 27 to celebrate the final day of Passover, an eight day festival of their ancestors’ liberation, when a shooter tried to trap them in.

After shots rang out at the synagogue in Poway, a doctor jumped into action to help a fallen victim. The doctor began performing CPR on the woman struck by gunfire when he realized that the patient was his wife: 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye. Lori would not survive her injuries.

Lori was at the Chabad of Poway synagogue that day to say prayers for her mother, who had recently passed away. Before she could attend the memorial service being held for her mother at 11:30 a.m., the alleged shooter, 19-year-old John T. Earnest, walked into the synagogue with a green military vest, sunglasses and an “AR-15 style” assault rifle, according to Sheriff Bill Gore. Some witnesses recall the shooter yelling expletives as he barged into the place of worship and opened fire, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“Here we are in the lobby on one of the holiest days of the year, the last day of Passover, smiling at each other. And I walk into the banquet hall to wash my hands when I hear a loud bang,” the synagogue’s founding rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, said at a press conference on Sunday, adding that he spoke with Lori briefly before and thought the bang was from Lori falling or a table that had tipped over. “I turn around and see a sight that is indescribable. Here is a young man standing with a rifle pointing right at me. And I look at him, he has sunglasses on. I couldn’t see his eyes, I couldn’t see his soul.”

According to accounts from several witnesses, Lori had “thrown herself in front” of rabbi Goldstein — a heroic act that “possibly sav[ed] his life.” However, gunfire struck Goldstein’s hand. After four hours of surgery on Saturday, the rabbi lost one of his index fingers.

Executive Director Rabbi Ysrael Goldstein (2nd R), who was shot in the hands, hugs his congregants after a press conference outside the Chabad of Poway Synagogue on April 28, 2019 in Poway, Calif. (Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images)

Lori’s husband, physician Howard Kaye, was in the synagogue when the shooter opened fire. Fellow worshippers called him over to help treat some of the fallen victims, which, unbeknownst to him, included his wife. “Howard was there trying to put defibrillator caps on... that's when he saw [his wife’s] face and fainted,” Lori’s best friend Roneet Lev, MD, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Lori was shot at the synagogue and died at a nearby hospital. The San Diego native is survived by her husband and her 22-year-old daughter Hannah. She worked at Pro Specialties Group, a sports memorabilia company.

“She wanted to honor her mother at the memorial service... For those of us who know Lori know that she is a person of unconditional love... She was the one that went out of her way to always be there for those in need,” Goldstein said of Lori, whom he had known for nearly 25 years. He also recalled being present for the birth of Lori’s only child and Lori attending his own daughter’s wedding.

“We just came from Passover at the seder table,” Goldstein continued. "We sang the song that God has protected us, that every generation they rise up against us but God will protect us. Yesterday, this horrific terrible event that occurred here — in my own interpretation, Lori took the bullet for all of us. She died to protect all of us. She didn't deserve to die."

Now, close friends and family have been working tirelessly to ensure Lori’s story and legacy will not be forgotten.

“Lori died on Passover, our holy day; died in our synagogue, a holy place; and died putting herself in front of our rabbi, saving his life,” Lev, an emergency physician at Scripps Mercy Hospital, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “She would want her death to not be in vain. She would want it to have the purpose of making the world a better place. We believe there is good in this world; we believe it is possible to drown out the hate and the anti-semitism. It is smaller than the love in the world.”

Her funeral, held April 29 at Chabad of Poway, was live streamed, and her 22-year-old daughter Hannah spoke about her late mother.

“Hannah has to go back in the same hallway where she was yelling out, ‘Mommy! Daddy!’— the thought of that,” an emotional Lev, 55, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “She’s going to do it for her mom because she knows her mom would want her to pack up her fears and go up to the shot up synagogue with its bullet holes and speak about her mom. It’s not easy.”

Another friend of Lori, Audrey Jacobs, wrote an emotional Facebook post on the day of the shooting that has since gone viral.

“You were always running to do a mitzvah (good deed) and gave tzedaka (charity) to everyone,” Jacobs wrote. “Your final good deed was taking the bullets for Rabbi Mendel Goldstein to save his life.”

She continued: “Anti-Semitism is real and is deadly. Hate crimes are real and are deadly. Lori would have wanted all of us to stand up to hate. She was a warrior of love and she will be missed... Lori’s family wants her story to be told and her legacy of good deeds to live forever.”

Other congregants injured at the Poway synagogue include 8-year-old Noya Dahan, who was hit by shrapnel in the leg and face. Dahan’s uncle, Almog Peretz, 34, was also injured by shrapnel trying to protect his niece.

According to authorities, the gunman’s rifle jammed at the scene, preventing further casualties. As the gunman fled the scene in his car, an off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard fired back at the shooter. Authorities apprehended Earnest and charged him for attempted murder in the first degree and three counts of attempted murder in the first degree in what has been described as a hate crime, according the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

The shooter allegedly wrote a white nationalist “open letter” declaring his “disgust” for Jews to 8chan, a far-right message board, the morning of the shooting. User “JohnTEarnest” also expressed admiration of the gunmen in other mass shootings including at the Tree of Life synagogue in which 11 people were killed.

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