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College classmates raised concerns about Poway synagogue shooter before 2019 attack

Teri Figueroa, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

SAN MARCOS, Calif. — Not long before a 19-year-old North County nursing student opened fire in a Poway synagogue, a hate crime that killed a congregant and wounded three others, he espoused ideology that alarmed his classmates.

John T. Earnest shared white supremist material with at least two of his Cal State San Marcos classmates, according to a newly obtained court filing. He studied Hitler. He had a copy of the manifesto of the man who shot up two New Zealand mosques in March 2019 — and he liked it.

Two fellow nursing students took their concerns about Earnest to a professor, who reported it up the chain at the university. An investigation followed, and university police were part of the team.

But, according to the court filing, because Earnest had made no threats or displayed any acts of violence, he was not arrested or pulled from school.

The revelation that students had reported concerns about Earnest was contained in a probation report filed in San Diego Superior Court when Earnest was sentenced in September to life in prison without parole for murder, attempted murder and arson.

It’s the first confirmation that someone not only flagged his behavior, but that it had triggered an investigation in the weeks before the April 27, 2019, shooting. After his arrest, The San Diego Union-Tribune followed up on tips that there may have been concerns on campus about Earnest, but reporters were unable to confirm the information at the time.


Asked about the investigation recently, university spokeswoman Margaret Chantung cited federal student privacy regulations and said she “can’t speak specifically to this case or to any behavioral concerns related to Mr. Earnest that may have been shared with CSUSM.”

She said that, in general, “concerning student behaviors” are reported to the Dean of Students Office, which oversees a campus team with specialized expertise to assess and respond. That team includes members of the University Police Department.

“The Team reviews for indicators/evidence that someone is planning or preparing to act out inappropriately; or has the potential to hurt themselves or others,” Chantung said in an email.

The team then makes recommendations for “behavioral intervention, if it’s warranted,” she said.


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