A long-time member of the Chabad of Poway synagogue, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, died from her injuries after a gunman opened fire during services to celebrate the end of Passover.
Her rabbi, 57-year-old Yisroel Goldstein lost his index finger when he put his hand up as the gunman approached him. He later wrapped his wounds in a prayer shawl and told his congregants, “we are a Jewish nation that will stand tall.”
Almog Peretz, 34, was declared a hero after he was shot in the leg while shuffling out a group of school-aged children, a group that included one of his nieces, 8-year-old Noya Dahan, who was hit by shrapnel and who described the shooting in an interview with NBC News.
Noya Dahan (right), Lori Gilbert-Kaye with Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein (center), and Almog Peretz (right).
Here are their stories:
Lori Gilbert-Kaye: “Jewel of Our Community”
As a gunman unloaded bullets inside the synagogue filled with about 100 worshipers, Kaye performed what her friends and Rabbi Goldstein called a last act of heroism when she protected the rabbi from gunfire.
“In my own interpretation, Lori took the bullet for all of us,” Goldstein said outside the synagogue a day after the deadly shooting. “She didn’t deserve to die right in front of my eyes.”
The word “giving” was used repeatedly by friends to describe the 60-year-old woman, who has lived her entire life in San Diego. She leaves behind a husband and a 22-year-old daughter.
“When you ask me, ‘Why’d she put herself in front of the rabbi,’ it’s like, anyone who knows her, that’s what she would do,” her friend Roneet Lev said.
Both Lev and another friend of Kaye’s, Audrey Jacobs, said that as the rabbi was being wheeled into surgery, he said, “Let everyone know Lori Kaye saved me.”
Lev said Kaye was a pillar of San Diego’s Jewish community and was known by people across the globe for her acts of kindness. Jacobs described Kaye as a “jewel of our community.”
Kaye was attending Saturday’s service to pay tribute to her late mother with a traditional prayer for the dead. She was a member of the synagogue since its founding. According to the rabbi, Kaye helped secure funding that helped open the Chabad of Poway in 1986.
Kaye’s husband, a doctor, rushed to the shooting scene to help and while performing CPR on a victim fainted when he realized it was his wife, Lev told The Los Angeles Times.
Lev said that despite the tragedy, the Jewish community will continue to “make this world a better place.”
“She did not die in vain, Lev said. “Her death must bring goodness to the world. If anybody does some good act, whatever it is – calling a friend, saying hello, anything kind – would bring a blessing to Lori’s memory and keep her memory alive.”
Noya Dahan: “Too Scary to Not Cry”
Eight-year-old Noya Dahan remembers she was playing with the other children her age before the service started on Saturday when she heard loud noises as she entered the doorway to the synagogue.
Dahan described the chaos to NBC News, detailing the moment her uncle, Peretz, scooped up more than a half-dozen kids and rushed them away from the shooter.
“I was one of them and the person was aiming right at [Peretz] and he was holding me so it hit him and the second one hit me,” she said.
Meanwhile, her dad was screaming, “Everyone run! Run! Run! Someone’s shooting,” she recalled.
The 8-year-old said the whole incident happened so quickly it seemed like movie. “It was like too scary to not cry,” she said.
What she does remember, though, was the feeling of getting hit.
“Yes, I definitely remember when it was coming straight at my head like, I’m like ‘what’s happening”‘ and then I realized that something hit me and didn’t go out so I was really afraid,” Dahan said.
Dahan said her family has been the target of anti-Semitism in the past. Five years ago, swastikas were etched into their home and someone tried to light it on fire, she said.
“I’m still worried, like I still picture things in my head and I still picture the sounds and noise stuff and it’s just scary,” Dahan said. “But, um I don’t really feel safe here. This is not the first and definitely not the last time this happened.”
Dahan’s family moved to the U.S. a few years ago from Sderot, Israel, which has been the target of rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
“We came from fire to fire,” Noya’s father, Israel Dahan, was quoted as having told Israeli radio. “We left Sderot after our house was hit a few times. My mother’s house was hit. I was wounded.”
Noya Dahan was released from the hospital Saturday night.
When he first heard the gunshots, he immediately gathered the children and lead them to safety, Jacobs said.
He scooped up Noya, his niece, and rushed the rest toward the exit, attempting to dodge bullets along the way. He was hit in the leg, but did not feel it.
He continued his mission to shield and protect the children of the synagogue. He said he couldn’t think about his bullet wound because he was nervous.
After leading a large group of kids to a safe place, he paused and noticed that he was missing one, his other niece, so he ran back in.
Terrified, but not immobilized by her fear, she locked herself in the bathroom and sheltered. The shooter was gone by the time Peretz got to her, and that’s when congregants pointed out that he was bleeding.
When asked what led him to run back inside, Peretz said simply, “My niece.”
“I don’t care,” he said, responding to a question about whether or not he was scared. “She was alone.”
“Because the kids, they stand in shock,” he continued. “They’re like frozen, they stand. I’m scared they’ll run the wrong way. I tell them, ‘No, this way, this way!’ And I scream.”
In the moments that followed, the congregation was beginning to realize what had just happened. Peretz said there was a sense of disbelief that they all shared.
Peretz saw medics trying to resuscitate Kaye. He also passed by the rabbi and saw he was missing his finger.
“You know, I want to forget,” Peretz said. “I want to forget. I hope I forget that, but it’s coming all the time.”
Peretz said he hasn’t been able to get the terrifying image — the shooter standing there with his weapon raised, sight at his eye, firing rounds — out of his mind.
He didn’t eat or sleep that night.
“This is sad, but I am originally from Sderot so we know a bit about running from the Qassam rockets,” Peretz told Israel’s Channel 12 from his hospital bed, according to The Times of Israel.
Peretz is recovering from shrapnel wounds and a gunshot to the leg. He has since been released from the hospital.
“A young man standing with a rifle, staring right at me, he had sunglasses on,” Goldstein said. “I couldn’t see his eyes, I couldn’t see his soul.”
Within seconds, bullets were fired in his direction. All he could do was put his hands up to protect himself, he said.
“I turned around and I’m face to face with this murderer — terrorist — who was holding a rifle and looking straight at me, and then as soon as he saw me, he started to shoot toward me, and that’s when I put my hands up and then my fingers got blown away,” Goldstein told NBC’s TODAY show in an exclusive interview Sunday morning.
He was struck in both of his index fingers. As he fled from the shooter he spotted a group of children, his grandchild among them, and he gathered them together and rushed them outside all the while not knowing his right index finger had been severed from his hand.
“My granddaughter — four-and-a-half years old — sees her grandpa with a bleeding hand and she sees me screaming and shouting, ‘Get out! Get out!’ She didn’t deserve to see her grandfather like this,” Goldstein said.
In the midst of his life-saving dash, he wrapped his hand in a prayer shawl.
After the shooter fled the property, synagogue congregants sheltered in an outdoor area waiting for authorities to arrive. Goldstein saw an opportunity to speak from his heart and remind his people of their resiliency.
“I got up there, and I just spoke from my heart and giving everyone the courage to know — you know, it was just 70 years ago during the Holocaust, we were gunned down like this. And I just want to let our fellow Americans know, we’re not going to let this happen here — not here in San Diego, not here in Poway, not here in the United States of America,” Goldstein said.
At a Sunday press conference, the rabbi said that President Donald Trump called him and spoke with him for about 15 minutes. He said President Trump offered his condolences on behalf of the U.S. and was very comforting.
“I’m really grateful for our president for really taking the time,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein, a rabbi at Chabad of Poway since he co-founded it in 1986, wondered how the suspected shooter could arrive at a point where he would want to inflict this kind of pain.
“How does a 19-year-old, a teenager, have the audacity, the sickness, the hatred?” he said. “How does he come to our house of worship and do what he did?”
Goldstein called Kaye a dear friend that he’s known for 33 years. He said she died to protect everyone in the synagogue, and said her legacy will continue.