ORANGE (CBSLA) — A former classmate of suspected Poway synagogue shooter John Earnest is speaking out.
Molly Brown talked to CBSLA's Jeff Nguyen at an interfaith vigil for the synagogue shooting victims held Monday evening at Chapman University in Orange.
Brown, who is currently a sophomore at Chapman, met Earnest during their freshman year in high school.
"My best friend and I at the time, we noticed that he isolated himself. He kept to himself. Was very introverted and didn't really smile that often," said Brown. "And so we asked him 'hey, do you want to eat lunch with us?' "
The friendship didn't last but she continued to have classes Advanced Placement classes with Earnest.
Brown says her most vivid memories of him were from their senior year when they had AP Government together.
"Senior year he came out of his shell a little bit more and openly talked about his opinions in class," said Brown. "He seemed to subscribe to a lot of the alt-right viewpoints."
Dr. Pete Simi is an associate professor of Sociology at Chapman who studies extremist groups and political violence.
He says FBI stats point to a significant spike in hate crimes in recent years and even a blue state like California isn't immune.
"California actually has long history of white supremacist activities. It's one of the hot spots when you look at concentration of groups," said Simi.
"We need to find ways that are not just a kind of passive remembering but active engagement in supporting and standing with one another," said Marilyn Harran, Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education.
Brown says her former classmate's father is a teacher at their old high school – where he is respected by students and staff.
The Earnest family released a statement saying "Our son's actions were informed by people we do not know, and ideas we do not hold."
Brown says it's been stunning for everyone back home in her San Diego community because Earnest was a talented pianist who often won school competitions and got good grades.
"Doing well in the classroom doesn't always mean you're a good person," said Brown.
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