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Poway Mayor After Synagogue Shooting: 'We Do Whatever It Takes'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to begin the program with an update on the shooting yesterday at the Chabad Poway synagogue. One person was killed, and three were injured, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YISROEL GOLDSTEIN: I will never forget yesterday. My missing finger will forever scar me physically, but it's going to remind me how vulnerable we are and also how heroic each one of us can be.

MARTIN: Earlier, we spoke with Poway's mayor, Steve Vaus, to learn how the community is doing.

STEVE VAUS: It's been a challenging 26 hours. I had visited with Chabad a few days after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting six months ago. We spent time memorializing the victims of that massacre and then talking about how we could keep Chabad congregants more safe and give them tips to be safe and secure. I have no doubt that saved lives yesterday. But still, the loss of even one life and one injury is too much.

MARTIN: I'm just - I notice that you are a longtime community activist in addition to your work as the mayor. And I'm just wondering, you know, when you decided to take on this role, if you ever imagined that, you know, you would be having to be in the position of comforting people like this and constituents in this way.

VAUS: It's not something that I would ever wish on any other mayor or any elected official. But sometimes, you have to step up and do some things that aren't comfortable and are unexpected. But I have to tell you, I am backed by an incredible community of 50,000 people who, every time we've faced a tragedy or of one sort or another, they've been willing to step up and wrap their arms around each other. So I've had a lot of help.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, there is a suspect in custody, and an investigation is underway. Do we know any more about what may have motivated this attack?

VAUS: I don't personally know. But let me be very clear. When you walk into a house of worship, and you shoot parishioners or congregants there, that's a hate crime. And that has no place in our society. And it happens far too often, but all we can do at this point is remind our brothers and sisters from the Chabad that we will be with them. We will walk with them through this dark time. Hate comes and knocks on too many doors. Heartbreak comes right behind it. All we can do is focus on love and those that need a little extra love right now and help them get through this.

MARTIN: Just one more question on that point, though. There have been reports that the suspect posted an anti-Semitic letter online an hour before the shooting and that he may have been implicated in an attack on a mosque earlier. And I wondered if law enforcement has verified any of this with you.

VAUS: I've only heard that in the same fashion that you have - from - through second-hand reporting. I'm trying to think as little about the suspect as possible and as much about my community as possible.

MARTIN: Well, tell me a bit more about the community, if you would. What brings people to Poway? What can you tell us about the Chabad? Like, where - tell me what some of the people are like. Like, why do they go there? Who are the people who live there?

VAUS: Well, Poway is - it sits right up against the city of San Diego. We're a city of 50,000 folks. Ironically, we have long been the safest city in San Diego County, one of the top 20 safest in the state of California. We take public safety very seriously. It's a community that's all about family. We call ourselves the city in the country, and it's not just because of the beautiful open space we have of trees and mountains. But it's also about the way we treat each other. It's more like a small town than a medium-sized city. And Chabad is one of the members of our faith community that's a very important part of the fabric of Poway. And we're proud to have them here.

MARTIN: You tweeted yesterday that Poway has fought wildfires with pickup trucks and garden hoses. This city always comes together and stands together. Do you have any plans or thoughts about the coming days of how you might kind of help the city come together and move forward and heal from this?

VAUS: You know, just in the minutes before we went on the air, I approved a vigil for tonight to be held in a park up the street from about Chabad of Poway. And we're inviting everyone to come out and literally and figuratively put their arms around one another and bring this community together. We do whatever it takes - like you mentioned, went to fight wildfires edging towards the city. And we had a case several years ago where a young person went missing, and thousands and thousands of people turned out to search. This community comes together in the toughest times and work together during this tragedy.

MARTIN: Steve Vaus is the mayor of Poway, Calif., and he was kind enough to join us from there by phone.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for talking to us. And, once again, our condolences and our best wishes for you and for your city.

VAUS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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