The man who fired a semi-automatic weapon inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego on Saturday froze, dropped his gun and sprinted to his car when he saw Oscar Stewart come barreling toward him, yelling so loud the priest at a neighboring church could hear.
“Get down!” Stewart yelled, according to his wife and others who were at the scene. “You motherfucker! I’m going to kill you!”
Others who were there later told him it sounded like four or five people were shouting. He thinks maybe an angel was standing behind him and speaking through his voice. When the shooter ran, he immediately gave chase.
Stewart, 51, told The Daily Caller on Sunday he doesn’t remember any conscious thought from the moment he heard the gun shots until it was all over — he just acted on instinct to stop the shooter and prevent him from leaving so he couldn’t hurt more people somewhere else. The Iraq combat veteran said his military training kicked in.
“I knew I had to be within five feet of this guy so his rifle couldn’t get to me,” Stewart said. “So I ran immediately toward him, and I yelled as loud as I could. And he was scared. I scared the hell out of him.”
Stewart served in the Navy in explosive ordnance disposal from 1990 to 1994, then enlisted in the Army in 2001 because of the September 11 terror attacks.
“Looking back, it was kind of a crazy idea to do, but I did it.” He was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and left the military in 2004, a Staff Sergeant. He’s now in construction work.
When the gunman opened fire, he was in the back of the synagogue. By the time he got to the lobby, the shooter had killed one woman, blown the finger off of a rabbi, and injured two others.
“I heard gunshots,” Stewart said. “And everybody got up and started trying to get out the back door, so I — for whatever reason — I didn’t do that. I ran the other way. I ran towards the gun shots.”
“When I came around the corner into the lobby area, I saw the individual with a gun, and he fired two rounds. And I yelled at him and I must have yelled very loud, and he looked at me, and 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 he chased him all the way out to his car, and began pounding on it — the shooter had managed to lock himself in. When Stewart saw him reach for a rifle, he punched the side of the car as hard as he could, intending to figure out a way to drag him out of the car — that’s when a Border Patrol agent who attends the synagogue came running out to the parking lot, yelling for Stewart to get down because he had a gun. (RELATED: Trump Praises Off-Duty Border Patrol Agent Who Engaged Synagogue Shooter)
Stewart says this man may have saved his life, and pointed to his use of a civilian gun — he was off-duty and was apparently handed the weapon by someone else on the scene — as evidence that gun control isn’t the answer to these kinds of tragedies. “It takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun,” he told the Caller. (RELATED: Democrats Use San Diego Synagogue Shooting To Push Gun Control)
The agent fired several rounds into the lower part of the vehicle, intending to disable it, but the shooter managed to drive away. The two of them then grabbed a phone from someone and called the police to report his license plate. The shooter later turned himself in.
After he sped off, Stewart ran back into the synagogue and found a woman he knew, 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye, unresponsive on the floor in the lobby. He began CPR, and continued trying to bring her back to life as a couple of doctors arrived and began to assist him. She didn’t make it. The two had talked occasionally, and he remembers her as a passionate and kind woman.
“She had different political views, so we had interesting discussions when we talked,” he said. “We didn’t just talk about the weather. It was kind of cool. She was a very loving woman.”
Stewart considers her the real hero. Eyewitnesses said she jumped in front of the rabbi to save his life.
“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.”
“I don’t know if I consciously made the choice to potentially sacrifice myself,” he added. “But I did. 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.”
He may not call himself a hero, but Stewart believes his actions effectively stopped the shooter. He doesn’t think reports of the shooter’s gun jamming as the reason he fled are likely to be true, because he was using a semi-automatic rifle. “Full automatic weapons will jam,” he said. “Semi-automatic weapons do not jam.” He thinks maybe the shooter had emptied his magazine. Whatever the case, the shooter let the slung weapon drop and fled.
“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.”
For his part, Stewart doesn’t attribute the shooter’s actions to a larger agenda and was reluctant to connect him to a larger political context. He doesn’t blame President Trump, and expressed hope that people don’t try to blame anyone else for the man’s actions. “He was an individual, acting alone,” he said.
“If you’re ignorant and you don’t know what people are like, you don’t know that I’m a person just like you. I go to work every day in a manual labor job. I’m not some, you know, supposedly he said in his manifesto that the Jews control this and that — I don’t control anything. I go to work just like you every day. He didn’t know that.”
“If he had gotten to know me, he would know that I’m a great person, that I’m a nice guy, that I’m a very caring person,” he continued. “My apprentices — they all love me. They say that I’m the best teacher in the world, you know, that I care, that I try to teach them, and if he had known any of these people … like the lady Lori who died. She would go give Easter baskets to kids and that’s not even a Jewish thing, you know … she was just a warm person.”
If anything’s to blame, he says it’s social media and the increasingly disconnected world we find ourselves in. “The whole media thing, people don’t get to know people, and they get to sit in a cocoon, and sit and make opinions on what somebody writes. It’s not good. We need to interact more.”
“The most important thing I want to share is that we need to know each other,” he said. “If you make an opinion on anyone, you need to know what they’re about, and who they are. You can’t generalize and say every blue person is evil because they’re blue. That’s ridiculous.”
The funeral service for Kaye is on Monday. He expects the synagogue will be totally packed out.