Authorities identified the 11 victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting after a gunman armed with an assault rifle and at least three handguns opened fire there on Saturday morning. Six others were injured in what authorities said was a hate crime targeting the city’s Jewish community.
The suspect, identified as Robert Bowers of Baldwin, Penn., surrendered after exchanging gunfire with officers and then retreating inside the building. He has been taken into custody and was charged late Saturday with 29 counts related to federal hate crimes legislation, including 11 counts of obstruction of religious beliefs resulting in death.
“Today the nightmare has hit home here in the city of Pittsburgh,” the city’s public safety director Wendell Hissrich said during an afternoon news conference. At an earlier appearance, verging on tears, Hissrich described the “horrific crime scene” inside the place of worship as “one of the worst that I’ve ever seen.”
On Sunday, Allegheny County Medical Examiner officers released the names of the 11 victims, whose ages ranged from 54 – 97 years old and included a husband and wife and brothers.
Authorities said Joyce Feinberg, 75, Richard Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, Cecil Rosenthal, 59, David Rosenthal, 54, Bernice Simon, 84, Sylvan Simon, 86, Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, and Irving Younger, 69, were shot and killed by Bob Bowers.
Mourners and community members from around Pittsburgh arrived at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill Sunday morning to pay their respects. Bouquets lined the grass outside the temple, a makeshift memorial in an area that continues to be cordoned off by police.
Carl and Bella Schachter, Holocaust survivors, were among the mourners who visited the the memorial in the wake of the shooting. The couple, originally from Romania, has lived in Squirrel Hill for about 50 years after immigrating from Israel in 1968.
“When I remember, I’m shaking,” Carl said, when asked about his immediate reaction to the news of the shooting.
“Yeah, because we are Holocaust survivors,” Bella added. “This is the first thing we think about. I never thought we’d see something like this again. Never, especially in the United States.”
The couple said they found out Saturday night that an unidentified family friend was a victim in the shooting while they were with his wife.
“It was unbelievable. It was unbelievable, the pain,” Bella said, crying. “You run away from one place, you run to something else. When you see something like that, you cannot explain the pain that you feel.”
Others arrived to show gratitude to those who helped in the aftermath of the shooting. Molly Butler and her two children, 6-year-old Lily and 9-year-old Mikey, arrived early in the day to pass out cookies and thank you notes to law enforcement officials who responded to the shooting.
Butler, who has lived in Squirrel Hill her whole life and said her children are fifth generation residents of the neighborhood, said she knew a few families who were affected by the shooting. Butler, who attends Orthodox synagogue is a couple blocks down Tree of Life, noted that Squirrel Hill, which is reportedly home to more than half of Pittsburgh’s Jews, is the bedrock of the city’s Jewish community.
“All different types of people live hand in hand in this community,” she said. “You’ll see Reform people and Orthodox people and Conservative people and Hasidic all living in the same spot, very integrated. Even though we are in our Orthodox synagogue, we knew people in the Conservative one.”
Butler said she and her family were observing Sabbath and were limited in how much they could help out in the moment of the shooting. She decided the next day to show support and gratitude to the officers. Lily and Mikey held signs bearing a message to officers: “Thank you for keeping the Jews safe in my neighborhood.”
Steven Schlossman and Stephanie Wallach came to the neighborhood from Mount Lebanon, Pa. a township close to the city. Schlossman, who teaches history at the nearby Carnegie Mellon University, said he has a friend who is closely involved with the Tree of Life, and that he felt he had to come out. Wallach, who also works at CMU as an administrator, said they both felt the temple is an extension of their community because they go through the area so much for work.
“As Jews, we really bond together,” Wallach said. “Wherever you live, whatever sect of Judaism — just yesterday I was shopping in Giant Eagle in South Hills and a woman looked terribly upset down one of the aisles. We hugged each other. We’re both Jewish. And we just feel this bond. And you don’t actually need to be jewish to feel a bond with people right now.”
Schlossman said that while he has not personally felt the impact of a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S., the political climate has changed to allow room for such “hate-filled rhetoric.” “I very much see this in a broader context, with actions from the fringe, many of which have anti-Semitic groups.”
The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, an enclave reportedly home to more than half of the city’s Jewish population, is believed to be the single deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the U.S., according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Authorities said four police officers were wounded, and confirmed that no children were killed. Bowers was not counted among the injured. Hissrich said the shooter was taken to a hospital in “fair condition,” and that there appears to be no further threat or any evidence of IEDs.
Two of the injured officers were hurt in the first encounter with the gunman, which happened around 10 a.m., said Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert. None of the officers suffered life-threatening injuries, though two people remained in critical condition on Saturday afternoon, Hissrich said.
Authorities said the shooter appeared to be working alone and that four weapons — an assault rifle reportedly similar to an AR-15 and three handguns — were found at the scene.
Michael Eisenberg, the past president of the Tree of Life Synagogue, told KDKA-TV that the synagogue has never had threats or security concerns.
“I’ve always had a very watchful eye because of what’s going on in the current climate, with the mail bombings… our security was that nobody has ever tried.
“Because like most other religious places we have an open door.”
Eisenberg said that the synagogue installed new doors so that people could exit more quickly following advice from homeland security officials. He said at least one person was able to escape the building because of those doors.
Jonathan Greenblat, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks and advocates against anti-Semitism, said that the shooting was an anti-Semitic attack that targeted Jews on a Saturday morning when they would have been there for religious services.
“We will work together with communities across the country to push back on prejudice wherever it appears,” he tweeted.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf was seen outside Tree of Life shortly after the shooting and said that his office was working with first responders at the scene.
President Donald Trump was briefed on the shooting and condemned the violence, but continued with his plans to attend a Future Farmers of America event in Indianapolis and a campaign rally Saturday for Rep. Mike Bost in Murphysboro, Ill. Trump acknowledged that the shooter appeared to target the Jewish community.
“It looks definitely like it’s an anti-Semitic crime. And that is something you wouldn’t believe could still be going on. But it would seem to be an anti-Semitic crime,” Trump said after stepping off Air Force One in Indianapolis.
The President addressed the shooting at the beginning of his Illinois rally, calling anti-semitism a “scourge” that needs to be dealt with. He also defended his decision not to reschedule, arguing that to do so would be a victory for the suspect. “We can’t allow people like this to become important,” he said. “When we change all of our lives in order to accommodate them, it’s not acceptable.”
Trump also noted as part of his defense that the New York Stock Exchange opened the day after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But it actually opened six days later.
Earlier in the day, Trump condemned the violence and advocated for the shooter to get the death penalty. But he demurred when asked about gun control, arguing that there should have been an armed guard at the Synagogue to prevent the shooting.
“It’s a world with a lot of problems,” he said. “Certainly you want protection. They didn’t have protection. They had a maniac walk in.”
Upon his return to Washington, the President ordered flags at federal buildings to be flown at half staff until Oct. 31 out of “solemn respect” for the victims.
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted his prayers for the victims and their families.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions also condemned the shooting on Saturday and described it as an attack based on religion.
“Hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society,” Sessions said in a statement. “Every American has the right to attend their house of worship in safety. Today 11 innocent people were suddenly and viciously murdered during religious services and several law enforcement officers were shot. These alleged crimes are reprehensible and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation. Accordingly, the Department of Justice will file hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant, including charges that could lead to the death penalty.”
He added that the Department of Justice would “bring the full force of the law against anyone who would violate the civil rights of the American people.”
The social media site Gab said the suspected shooter had an account on its site, which bills itself as a defender of free speech and is popular with far-right extremists. Before the shooting, the account linked to the suspect frequently posted about Jews and Jewish organizations, according to the New York Times. The account often targeted HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that helps resettle refugees.
Shortly before the shooting on Saturday, the account posted: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
After the shooting, Gab said it was alerted to the suspect’s profile, which was verified. The platform said it backed up the account’s data, suspended the account and contacted the FBI. The company also said it was ready to work with law enforcement and denounced the shooting.
“Gab unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence,” the company said in a statement.
When social media users pointed to the suspect’s Gab account, Gab went on the offensive on Twitter, pointing out other shooters who have used different social media platforms and asking what Twitter and Facebook have done to address hate on their platforms.
Officials said resources have been opened up to families including a hotline for victim family members 412-432-4400 as well as a center set up at Chatham University on 106 Berry Street.
This story is developing…
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