11 People Dead After Mass Shooting at Pittsburgh Synagogue

Polikce respond to an active shooter situation at the Tree of Life synagogue on Wildins Avenue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa., on Saturday, October 27, 2018. (Pam Panchak/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

(CN) – Eleven people were killed in a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday. The gunman, identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers, reportedly shouted “all Jews must die” as he burst into the place of worship. He is in custody.

The shooting occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, not far from the campuses of Carnegie Mellon and Chatham universities.

On Saturday afternoon, Wendell Hissrich, public safety director for the city of Pittsburgh, said the scene inside the synagogue is “very bad, there are multiple fatalities … and six people have been injured, including four police officers.”

The injured were taken to three area hospitals. None of the officers sustained life-threatening injuries, Hissrich said. Of the two civilians injured, one was in critical condition Saturday afternoon; the other was in serious condition.

He went on to say the shooting at the synagogue is being investigated as a federal hate crime.

Bowers apparently announced his intentions to attack the synagogue on Gab.com, a social media platform.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that Bowers’ post reference a Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society national refugee shabbat, held last week.

The newspaper said the person identified as Bowers on Gab.com posted Saturday morning that “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw the optics, I’m going in.”

HIAS issued a statement Saturday saying “There are no words to express how devastated we are by the events in Pittsburgh this morning. This loss is our loss, and out thoughts are with Tree of Life Congregation, our local partner Jewish Family Community Services of Pittsburgh, the city of Pittsburgh and all those affected by this senseless act of violence.

“As we try to process this horrifying tragedy, we pray that the American Jewish community and the country can find healing,” the statement said.

At the time of the attack, which occurred at about 10 a.m., Shabbat services were under way in the synagogue, as was a bris ceremony.

After firing at congregants, many of whom tried to escape to the building’s basement, the gunman barricaded himself on the third floor of the building and exchanged fire with police before surrendering.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Jeffrey Finkelstein, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, appeared on the city’s KDKA-TV, and expressed the community’s shock at what had just occurred.

“This should not be happening in a synagogue. This should not be happening in our neighborhood in Squirrel Hill,” Finkelstein said.

President Donald Trump was en route to Joint Base Andrews and a political rally in Indianapolis, Indiana when the mass shooting occurred.

In a hastily convened news conference, Trump said “something has to be done” about violence perpetrated by a “wacko,” and said the death penalty should be imposed for such crimes.

However, when asked by a reporter whether there is a need to revisit gun laws at this time, the president rejected the assertion and appeared to place blame on the synagogue for lack of security.

“This has little to do with it,” Trump said. “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat elected in 2014, issued a statement calling the incident an “absolute tragedy.”

“I have spoken with local leaders and my administration and the Pennsylvania State Police will provide any resources to assist local law enforcement and first responders,” Wolf said. “These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans. My thoughts right now are focused on the victims, their families and making sure law enforcement has every resource they need.

“We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life. But we have been saying ‘this one is too many’ for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way,” the governor continued. “And in the aftermath of this tragedy, we must come together and take action.”

In the aftermath of the attack police departments in New York City and elsewhere deployed officers to places of worship as a precaution.

In a statement, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said “initial reports suggest that this senseless act of gun violance was an anti-Semitic attack and we stand together with the Jewish community in this difficult time as we always have before.”

In Florida, Tallahassee mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said via Twitter that “this epidemic of violence impacts all of us, from worshipers in a synagogue to a Bible study meeting in Charleston to the brave men and women in law enforcement who give so much to keep us all safe.”

Gillum’s mention of Charleston, South Carolina, was a reference to the June 2015 shooting in a Bible study class at the Emanuel AME Church in which nine people died. Dylann Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, was convicted and sentenced to death for those murders.

A gathering was being held at the church Saturday morning when word of the shooting in Pittsburgh began to circulate. Attendee Chris Jennison said the group was just  about to hear from UN Ambassador and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.

Those in attendance had also been addressed by Jennifer Benjamin Pinckney, widow of South Carolina state Senator and Pastor Clementa Pinckney, who was one of Roof’s victims.

Shasta Inman, an attorney from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who was also in attendance at the AME church function, tweeted “Literally sitting the Charleston, SC Mother Emanuel AME Church discussing the 2015 shooting, and we learn of the active Pittsburgh synagogue shooter. … My take: Gun control needs to be a priority. VOTE, people.”

As the day wore on, others reacted with shock and anger.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, deplored “another horrific act of hate at a house of worship,” while Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League tweeted: “We are devastated. Jews targeted on Shabbat morning at synagogue, a holy place of worship, is unconscionable. Our hearts break for the victims, their families, and the entire Jewish community.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned the attack, saying he was “heartbroken and appalled” when he heard the news.

Netanyahu said in a video message posted on Twitter shortly after the attack, that all of Israel “is grieving with the families of the dead.”

“We stand together with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. We stand together with the American people in the face of this horrendous anti-Semitic brutality. And we all pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded,” he said.

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