11 die in at­tack on Pa. syn­a­gogue

Sus­pect charged with hate crimes, could face death

Orlando Sentinel (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Matt Pearce and David G. Sav­age Los An­ge­les Times

PITTS­BURGH — A man with a his­tory of mak­ing anti-Semitic and anti-im­mi­grant so­cial me­dia posts burst into a syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh and opened fire on Satur­day morn­ing ser­vices that in­cluded a baby­nam­ing cer­e­mony, killing 11 peo­ple and wound­ing six more, au­thor­i­ties said.

The shoot­ing, Bow­ers which be­gan shortly be­fore 10 a.m. EDT, was prob­a­bly “the dead­li­est at­tack on the Jewish com­mu­nity in the his­tory of the United States” and is a wor­ry­ing new peak in vi­o­lence against Jewish Amer­i­cans in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to the An­tiDefama­tion League, which has mon­i­tored anti-Semitism in the U.S. for more than a cen­tury.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said fed­eral prose­cu­tors, who are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the killings as a hate crime, could seek the death penalty against the sus­pected shooter, who was in cus­tody.

The shoot­ing un­folded over 20 min­utes at the Tree of Life Con­gre­ga­tion in Pitts­burgh’s Squir­rel Hill neigh­bor­hood.

The gun­man was armed with an as­sault ri­fle and three hand­guns, of­fi­cials said. He yelled, “All Jews must die!” as he walked into the syn­a­gogue, po­lice told lo­cal tele­vi­sion re­porters.

The sus­pected gun­man, iden­ti­fied as Robert Bow­ers, 46, of Pitts­burgh, wounded two of the first of­fi­cers who ar­rived at the scene as he tried to leave and later wounded two more SWAT of­fi­cers in­side the syn­a­gogue be­fore he was shot and taken into cus­tody, of­fi­cials said.

Watch­ing of­fi­cers run into the dan­ger “and re­move peo­ple and get them to safety was un­be­liev­able,” Pitts­burgh Po­lice Chief Scott Schu­bert said at a news con­fer­ence.

“With­out their courage, this tragedy would have been far worse,” said Wen­dell His­s­rich, Al­legheny County pub­lic safety di­rec­tor. None of the dead were chil­dren. Of­fi­cials said two of the wounded were in crit­i­cal condi-

tion.

The sus­pect re­mained hos­pi­tal­ized Satur­day af­ter­noon.

“The Depart­ment of Jus­tice will file hate crimes and other crim­i­nal charges against the de­fen­dant, in­clud­ing charges that could lead to the death penalty,” Ses­sions said in a state­ment Satur­day af­ter­noon.

Later Satur­day, au­thor­i­ties said Bow­ers was charged with ob­struct­ing the ex­er­cise of re­li­gious be­liefs re­sult­ing in death.

The charges also in­clude 11 counts of us­ing a firearm to com­mit mur­der, weapons of­fenses and charges al­leg­ing Bow­ers se­ri­ously in­jured po­lice of­fi­cers while ob­struct­ing the ex­er­cise of re­li­gious be­liefs.

Bob Jones, the FBI spe­cial agent in charge of the Pitts­burgh of­fice, called the shoot­ing “the most hor­rific crime scene I’ve seen in 22 years with the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

“Mem­bers of the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue con­duct­ing a peace­ful ser­vice in their place of wor­ship were bru­tally mur­dered by a gun­man tar­get­ing them sim­ply be­cause of their faith,” he said.

Bow­ers prob­a­bly acted alone and had no known crim­i­nal record, Jones said.

A so­cial me­dia user un­der Bow­ers’ name had called Jews “the chil­dren of sa­tan” and made posts be­fore the at­tack al­lud­ing to neo-Nazi ide­ol­ogy and threat­en­ing HIAS, a refugee agency orig­i­nally founded to as­sist Jews.

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the case con­firmed that they be­lieve the posts were made by the shoot­ing sus­pect.

“HIAS likes to bring in­vaders in that kill our peo­ple,” said a post made at 9:49 a.m. Satur­day — just five min­utes be­fore po­lice re­ceived the first 911 call from the syn­a­gogue.

“I can’t sit by and watch my peo­ple get slaugh­tered. Screw your op­tics, I’m go­ing in.”

The post was made on Gab, a small so­cial me­dia ser­vice that is pop­u­lar with white na­tion­al­ists and other far-right users.

The ref­er­ence to “op­tics” is a sig­nif­i­cant one among the small world of white na­tion­al­ists and sig­nals that the sus­pect had a fa­mil­iar­ity with the po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics of the Amer­i­can white-na­tion­al­ist move­ment. It al­ludes to de­bate among far­right fig­ures over whether to avoid vi­o­lence or ag­gres­sion, which of­ten draws neg­a­tive at­ten­tion to the move­ment.

Mark Het­field, chief ex­ec­u­tive of HIAS, said he was “in a state of shock” to hear that his or­ga­ni­za­tion was named by the shooter.

The refugee re­set­tle­ment group or­ga­nized a “refugee Shab­bat” event last week at which more than 300 syn­a­gogues across the coun­try came to­gether to “cel­e­brate our tra­di­tion of wel­com­ing refugees.”

He said it was un­clear if the Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue par­tic­i­pated.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who said Satur­day that he would be go­ing to Pitts­burgh but of­fered no fur­ther specifics, im­plied that lax se­cu­rity by the syn­a­gogue was at least par­tially to blame for the high death toll.

“If they had pro­tec­tion in­side, the re­sults would have been far bet­ter,” he said.

MATT ROURKE/AP

Peo­ple hold can­dles as they gather for a vigil in the af­ter­math of a deadly shoot­ing at the Tree of Life Con­gre­ga­tion.

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