Jewish Dentist Reportedly Murdered by Former Patient

The suspect, Mohammed Abdulkareem, a former patient, has been arrested.
March 1, 2024
Dr. Benjamin Harouni on his birthday on February 20. (Credit: Smile Plus Dentistry)

A Jewish dentist was murdered and two others were injured on Feb. 29 in a shooting at a dental office near San Diego.

The man who died at the scene was Dr. Benjamin Harouni, a 28 year old dentist.

A suspect, who El Cajon police are identifying as 29-year-old El Cajon resident Mohammed Abdulkareem, was apprehended at 9:30 pm near Balboa Park in Downtown San Diego. El Cajon is about 15 miles northeast of downtown San Diego.

The suspect, identified as 29-year-old El Cajon resident Mohammed Abdulkareem, was reported to have fled the shooting in a white U-Haul rental pickup truck.  Investigations also revealed that Abdulkareem was a former patient of the dental office. While the exact motive behind the shooting remains under investigation, it is believed that Abdulkareem was a disgruntled former customer.

“Abdulkareem was found to be armed with a loaded handgun and several loaded handgun magazines,” El Cajon police wrote in their report on March 1. “Records checks on the handgun later showed that it was legally purchased by Abdulkareem, just 2 weeks prior to the shooting.”

The report also said that Abdulkareem has been charged with “multiple felony charges, including one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder. Further investigation into the incident may reveal additional felony charges.”

Also injured in the attack was administrative assistant Yareli Carillo and office manager George Issaian. Carillo was shot in the legs and Issaian was shot five times. They are both expected to make a full recovery.

Following Harouni’s funeral on March 3, a public vigil was held in El Cajon. There, Mayor Bill Wells addressed the community concerns about classifying Harouni’s murder as a hate crime.

“I will not let anything be swept under the rug, and when I understand what the truth is, I will share that with you,” Mayor Wells said to the mourners. “We may need to be a little patient. This may take a little bit of time.”

Advocacy group StandWithUs expressed a similar sentiment in a statement on March 1, saying that “media outlets have been dismissing the shooting as a result of mental instability, as they often do when Jews are the victims of murderous hate. We call on law enforcement to investigate this as a hate crime.” Harouni was an inaugural member of the StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Internship program in 2012, which aims to train 11th and 12th graders to be community leaders, learn about Israel, and combat antisemitism.

Harouni was a 2018 graduate of the University of Southern California where he earned undergraduate degrees in Natural Science and Political Science. He earned his Doctorate in Dental Surgery from Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco in 2022. The Smile Plus Instagram account had a post on February 20th celebrating Harouni’s birthday with a cake in the office.

“Benjamin’s life was a shining star,” Rabbi Zalman Carlebach of Chabad of San Diego said at the vigil. “He lived a short 28 years. Let us not walk away feeling darkness and feeling sad, but in order to honor the life of Benjamin Harouni, let us walk away from tonight thinking how we can light this world with acts of goodness and kindness.”

Harouni’s brother Jacob announced at the vigil that in the next few weeks, the family will be creating a foundation to stop hate and promote peace and love in his honor and legacy and that “there’s no way Ben would leave this world without leaving a legacy.”

“Ben was an extremely positive person and someone who always had his head on his shoulders, always putting others over himself,” Harouni’s brother Jacob said. “He was the best friend anyone would ever wish for, whether it was buying concert tickets and hotel rooms for his friends and family to enjoy with him or simply just making time to help me with my homework. He was a giver. Not only was he the kindest soul, but he was an extremely driven person. Ben loved to make people smile, which is why he pursued dentistry. He loved to help people regardless of who his patients were. He would give the highest quality care to every single one of them. Once he told me about a patient he had seen and how bad he felt for their situation, I proceeded to ask him why he decided to continue to see underprivileged patients when he could make more money running his own private practice. He told me that it didn’t matter to him what the status of his patients were because it wasn’t about the money. He did it because he loved to care for others. He gave all of his patients a hundred percent of his effort in treating them regardless of their financial status, rich or poor.”

Jacob concluded his eulogy by saying, “Ben I love you and I want you to know that we all love you and miss you. I promise you, I’ll dedicate my life to bringing peace to this world. Thank you, Doc.”

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