Oscar Stewart was praying at Chabad of Poway last Shabbat, the final day of Passover 2019, when he heard a loud noise coming from the lobby.
In Oscar’s words: “I heard gunshots. 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 Oscar reached the lobby, he found a terrifying scene. A young man in sunglasses was shooting a rifle, and had just killed beloved congregant Lori Kaye. “He was in the act of shooting when I saw him. 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."
Oscar rushed toward the shooter, shouting loudly, "Get down! I’m going to kill you!"
“I knew I had to be within five feet of this guy so his rifle couldn’t get to me. 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.”
“When I shouted, they said that it sounded like four men shouting. I don’t know if that was me or if that was an angel, if you believe in angels, or what made that noise."
The shooter’s rifle miraculously jammed - or maybe ran out of ammunition - after firing off six rounds. He fled the building with Stewart close behind, determined to stop him before he attacked somebody else. The shooter got into his Honda Civic, and Oscar punched his car as hard as he could. Behind him fellow congregant Jonathan Morales was running to the scene, shouting to Oscar to get down because he had a gun.
Morales, an off-duty Border Patrol officer, was armed, and he fired four bullets into the car, trying to immobilize the vehicle. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein had recently requested that Morales bring his service weapon to synagogue, in case of just this situation.
The gunman managed to escape, but was arrested soon after.
Oscar credits his military training for enabling him to stay calm and take quick action. Oscar served in the Army in Iraq, and before that was a bomb disposal technician in the Navy. Now he works in construction.
“I served in Iraq. I never thought I’d hear gunfire again,” Oscar said.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said Oscar had performed an “act of courage” but Oscar insists, “I’m not a hero or anything. I just reacted. I thank God that He gave me the courage to do what I did.”
Oscar’s been having trouble sleeping since the terrifying attack. “The most important thing I want to share is that we need to know each other. 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.”
For running toward danger when everybody else was running away, we honor Oscar Stewart as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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