Military veteran Oscar Stewart thought he heard the last of gunfire when he left the Army in 2004 after serving in Iraq.
But on Saturday, he not only heard it, he defied it as he chased the gunman who had killed one person and wounded three others at Chabad of Poway in San Diego while the synagogue was observing the final day of Passover.
“Mr. Stewart risked his life to stop the shooter and saved lives in the process,” the San Diego Sheriff’s Department said in a statement, ABC reported.
Stewart, 51, used different words to describe harrying the shooter.
“I scared the hell out of him,” he said.
Stewart was worshipping at the synagogue when the shooting began. At first, he followed those trying to leave.
Then he decided to investigate the synagogue’s lobby, propelled by what he would later think could have been the “hand of God,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Oscar Stewart was focused on the comforting rhythm of the Torah reading when pops of gunfire cut through the sanctuary.
Stewart watched fellow congregants run toward the exits. He began to follow them. Then, in a split-second decision, he turned around. https://t.co/wAouhcGXKG
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) April 29, 2019
He encountered John Earnest, 19, who police have said is the suspect in the attacks. Earnest toted a semiautomatic rifle.
“Get down!” Stewart yelled, The Daily Caller reported before turning on the shooter, who fired two rounds after Stewart’s first words. “You motherf—er! I’m going to kill you!”
Stewart said he acted on instinct.
“I don’t know if I consciously made the choice to potentially sacrifice myself, but I did,” he said, before going on to praise shooting victim Lori Kaye, 60.
“And this lady, she stood and she jumped in front of the shooter and she saved the rabbi’s life. When somebody said I was a hero, I’m like, ‘she was a hero.’ I just did it instinctively, like an animal. There was no conscious decision. I just did it.”
Stewart said the gunman fled as he approached.
“He was in the act of shooting when I saw him,” Stewart said.
“When I yelled at him he turned and looked at me, and he like froze. And then the look on his face was one of amazement at first, and then one of fear. He saw me coming, and I was ready to do whatever I had to do to stop him.”
Stewart said he intimidated the shooter.
“When I shouted, they said that it sounded like four men shouting,” Stewart later told KGTV. “I don’t know if that was me or if that was an angel, if you believe in angels, or what made that noise.”
“I must have had a really mean look on my face or something, because he immediately dropped his weapon and turned and ran. And then I gave chase,” Stewart said, according to The Daily Caller.
This is U.S. Army vet Oscar Stewart. Instead of running away from the shots at Chabad of Poway, he ran towards them. He started yelling at the shooter, until he dropped his weapon. Many are calling Oscar “a hero.” More on his emotional story tonight #NBC7 at 6pm pic.twitter.com/DaPEFoa6e0
— Mari Payton (@MariNBCSD) April 28, 2019
He said he knew from his training that remaining within five feet of the shooter would help ensure his safety. He had served in the Navy from 1990 to 1994 before joining the Army after the 9/11 attacks.
As he followed the gunman into the parking lot, Stewart said, he met Border Patrol Agent Jonathan Morales who was at the synagogue and had pursued the gunman.
“He said, ‘Clear back, I have a gun,’” Stewart said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “He fired five rounds or so into the car.”
Stewart said the incident shows guns are necessary for protection.
“It takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun,” he told The Daily Caller.
“People in the aftermath here have been saying it’s important to be strong and defend ourselves. I also think it’s important to know that being strong and defending ourselves requires a lot of sacrifice, too.”
After the agent shot at the car, he and Stewart got a license number for the police.
Earnest later gave police his location and surrendered.
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