Lori Kaye was at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway to say a Kaddish prayer of mourning—as she often did on Saturday mornings—for her mother, who died in November. Her only daughter happened to be in the audience visiting from UCLA.
But when the 60-year-old mother heard gunshots from the alleged shooter’s AR-15 style assault rifle and saw that Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein had been shot in the hand, she instinctively jumped in the line of fire to protect him, Roneet Lev, her close friend of 25 years, told CNN.
The rabbi kept preaching, calling for unity, even after two of his fingers had been severed during the shooting, Lev recounted. But Kaye paid the ultimate price for her selflessness: She died hours later of fatal gunshot wounds from the self-described anti-Semitic gunman.
“She personified the ultimate of kindness and generosity,” Goldstein told CNN’s Reliable Sources in a hospital phone interview as recovers from his injuries. “She’s one of those people who are always there to be able to help others in their time of need.” He added that Kaye’s only daughter was visiting from UCLA, and that “she was there to witness as her mother is laying on the floor dying.”
Kaye’s husband, a local physician, rushed to the synagogue to administer first aid to those who had been shot the moment he heard there was an active shooter, Lev said. But when he realized that his wife was a victim, he fainted on the spot.
“She didn’t die a senseless death,” Lev told CNN. “She died advertising the problem we have with anti-Semitism and to bring good to this world... If God put an angel on this planet, it would have been Lori.”
“It’s unfathomable why this beautiful, beautiful, wonderful human being would be shot down,” Goldstein said, later describing the Saturday massacre as “unfathomable, indescribable terror.”
Among the three others seriously wounded by 19-year-old John T. Earnest, the suspected gunman, was 9-year-old Noya Dahan, who was hit by shrapnel in her leg and face. Her parents told Reuters that they had narrowly escaped death in Israel when they were injured by rocket fire. They moved to the relative safety of the San Diego suburb eight years ago.
Israel Dahan, the injured girl’s father, brought three of their five children at the synagogue to pray on Saturday. He said that antisemitism was on the rise in their community; their home had been painted with swastikas a few years ago. Now, his daughter was nearly killed by a gunman inside what should have been the safety of the synagogue. “It’s a little bit scary,” he told CNN. “We’re all over the place.”
“We were under the impression that everything is good here,” he said. “Today we noticed this is not even close to be regular life.”
As he waited in the hospital for his daughter to be treated, one of his other children asked him, “Why we are staying here?” He didn’t know how to answer.
Dahan’s brother-in-law Almog Peretz, 34, was also grazed by shrapnel while trying to protect a group of children. Peretz, who formerly lived in Sderot near the Gaza border, is credited with grabbing a group of kids, opening the synagogue’s door, and yelling at them to hide.
“There were many small kids next to me. I took a little girl who was our neighbor and three nieces of mine and ran,” he said, according to the Forward. “I opened the back door and we ran with all the children to a building in the back. I hid them in that building.”
Two of the children were reportedly so traumatized that they were still hiding 45 minutes after the shooter was subdued.
“It doesn’t matter where we go, we have to look out for ourselves,” Peretz told an Israeli radio station. “In Sderot, where I used to live, didn’t they also fire rockets at us? I didn’t believe this would happen in a place like this.”
Peretz added that the shooter’s rifle jammed, preventing what would have been far more bloodshed.
Police on Saturday said they were also looking into that possibility, as well as the quick thinking of an armed off-duty border patrol agent who was working as a security guard and fired at Earnest as he fled. He struck the gunman’s car multiple times and may have stopped the carnage.
Rabbi Goldstein, who has since recovered from hand surgery, told CNN his injuries will always remind him of what he witnessed Saturday.
“I was centimeters away from being shot point blank,” he said. “And I got away with losing my index finger, and that will be a scar forever. But that scar is going to remind me how vulnerable we are, but how heroic each one of us can be to stand up and fight against terror.”