WHO: Oscar Stewart, a San Antonio native who attends the Chabad of Poway synagogue in the San Diego suburb of Poway
WHAT: An act of courage that saved countless lives
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: If not for Stewart’s actions during an attack that left one person dead and three others injured, the carnage could have been much worse. On April 27, during a Sabbath service at the Orthodox Jewish temple, a white supremacist armed with a semiautomatic rifle opened fire on the congregation after apparently posting a letter online outlining his motives. The gunman was reportedly inspired by similar attacks on Jews and Muslims in other parts of the world.
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A 60-year-old woman who leaped to the defense of the rabbi died. Three other people, including an eight-year-old girl, were wounded. But the vast majority of the more than 100-person congregation escaped physical harm.
Stewart is a San Antonio native who joined the Navy after reconnecting with his Jewish faith while at UT-San Antonio. He later enlisted in the Army, while in his thirties, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was unarmed while observing the last day of Passover in his place of worship, but he told Texas Public Radio that when the gunman entered, his military training took over. “I just acted on instinct, and it was like I was on autopilot,” he said. “My religious convictions lead me to believe that God had a hand in this.”
“Armed only with a mean face,” according to TPR, Stewart ran from the sanctuary and toward the gunfire in the lobby. He screamed, “I’m going to kill you!” and rushed the shooter, who dropped his weapon to his side, turned, and ran. Stewart chased him out to his car. As the shooter fumbled with his rifle, Stewart “punched the vehicle as hard as [he could],” leading the gunman to drop the weapon. An off-duty Border Patrol agent on the scene opened fire on the car, and shortly afterward the suspect was apprehended by police.
Stewart told Texas Public Radio that he credits his upbringing in Texas with the way he moves through the world. While he left San Antonio after his military service, he still claims it as home—and Texas is proud to claim him too. “When people say, ‘Where’d you grow up, or where are you from?’ My hometown is San Antonio,” he told the station. “That’s where I met my values.”