SHOOTING HORROR AT U.S. SYNAGOGUE
AGUNMAN has killed at least 10 people and injured six others after opening fire during a baby naming ceremony at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Police last night said a suspect was in custody after the attack at the Tree of Life Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood.
A law enforcement official identified the suspect as Robert Bowers and said he is in his 40s.
City officials said the shooting was being investigated as a federal hate crime.
Wendell Hissrich, Pittsburgh public safety director, said among the six injured were four police officers who rushed to the scene.
“It is a very horrific crime scene. It was one of the worst that I’ve seen. It is very bad,” he said.
The attack took place during a baby naming ceremony, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
It was unknown whether the baby was harmed in the attack.
The synagogue is located at the intersection of Wilkins and Shady avenues. The tree-lined residential area, about 10 minutes from down- town Pittsburgh, is the hub of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
Before the suspect was taken into custody, the neighbourhood and all synagogues in the city were in a lockdown with people ordered to remain indoors.
President Donald Trump called the shooting “far more devastating than anyone thought,” saying: “It’s a terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country.”
But Mr Trump added the outcome would have been different if the synagogue had an armed guard.
“They didn’t have any protection,” he told reporters at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.
Offering a different take, Pennsylvania Democrat Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, called the shooting an “absolute tragedy” in a statement that made reference to calls for tighter gun control laws.
“We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life,” he said.
“But we have been saying ‘this one is too many’ for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S Lauder called the shooting “an attack not just on the Jewish community, but on America as a whole”.
The synagogue is a fortress-like concrete building, its facade punctuated by rows of swirling, modernistic stained-glass windows illustrating the story of creation, the acceptance of God’s law, the “life cycle” and “how human-beings should care for the earth and one another”, according to its website.
Among its treasures is a “Holocaust Torah” rescued from Czechoslovakia.
Its sanctuary can hold up to 1,250 guests.
Jeff Finkelstein of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh said local synagogues have done “lots of training on things like active shooters, and we’ve looked at hardening facilities as much as possible”.
“This should not be happening, period,” he told reporters at the scene. “This should not be happening in a synagogue.”
Just three days before the shooting, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers posted a column on the congregation’s website, noting people make time to attend funerals, but not for life’s happy occasions.
“There is a story told in the Talmud of a wedding procession and a funeral procession heading along parallel roads, with the roads intersecting,” Mr Myers wrote on Wednesday.
“The question asked is: when they meet at the fork, which procession goes first, funeral or wedding? The correct answer is wedding, as the joy of the couple takes precedence. In fact, the funeral procession is to move out of sight so that their joy is not lessened.”
He ended the column with words that now seem all too prescient.
“We value joy so much in Judaism that upon taking our leave from a funeral or a shiva house, the customary statement one makes (in Yiddish) is ‘nor oyf simches’ – only for s’machot,” he wrote.
“While death is inevitable and a part of life, we still take our leave with the best possible blessing, to meet at joyous events. And so I say to you: nor oyf simches!”