Pittsburgh synagogue gunman kills 11 in rampage
PITTSBURGH — Armed with an AR-15-style rifle and at least three handguns, a man shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire inside a crowded synagogue Saturday morning, killing at least 11 congregants and wounding four police officers and two others, authorities said.
In a rampage described as among the deadliest against the Jewish community in the United States, the assailant stormed into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Congregation, where worshippers had gathered in separate rooms to celebrate their faith and shot indiscriminately into the crowd, shattering what otherwise had been a peaceful morning.
The assailant — identified by law enforcement officials as Robert Bowers — fired for several minutes and was leaving the synagogue when officers, dressed in tactical gear and armed with rifles, met him at the door.
Police said the gunman exchanged fire with officers before retreating back inside and barricading himself inside a third-floor room. He eventually surrendered.
Bowers, 46, was wounded by gunfire, although authorities said it was unclear whether those wounds were self-inflicted or whether police had shot him.
He was in stable condition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
The Washington Post reported that Bowers was charged on 29 counts.
Although a bris, a ceremony to mark a child’s birth, was among the ceremonies taking place Saturday, no children were
among the casualties, law enforcement officials said.
The wounded included a 70year-old man who had been shot in the torso, and a 51-year-old woman with soft-tissue wounds, said Dr. Donald Yealy, chairman of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
The attack struck the heart of the city’s vibrant Jewish community in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood that’s home to several synagogues, kosher restaurants and bakeries. Hours later, hundreds gathered at three separate interfaith vigils to mourn the dead and pray for the wounded.
The assault came amid a bitter, vitriolic midterm election season and against the backdrop of what appears to be a surge in hate-related speech and crimes across America.
It also took place in the wake of the arrest Friday morning of a man who authorities said sent more than a dozen pipe bombs to critics of President Donald Trump.
Calling it the “most horrific crime scene” he’d seen in 22 years with the FBI, Robert Jones, special agent in charge in Pittsburgh, said the synagogue was in the midst of a “peaceful service” when congregants were gunned down and “brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith.”
“We simply cannot accept this violence as a normal part of American life,” Gov. Tom Wolf said at news conference. “These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Pennsylvanians and are not who we are as Americans.”
The massacre heightened a sense of national unease over increasingly hostile political rhetoric.
Critics of Trump have argued that he’s partly to blame because he has been stirring the pot of nationalism, charges that Trump has denied.
Addressing reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Trump said: “It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country and frankly all over the world, and something has to be done.”
“The results are very devastating,” he said, adding that if the temple “had some kind of protection,” then “it could have been a much different situation.”
Leaders across the world condemned the attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “heartbroken and ap- palled” and that the “the entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “Hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society. Every American has the right to attend their house of worship in safety.”
The massacre was at least the third mass shooting in a house of worship in three years. Last November, a gunman killed 26 worshippers at a church in Sutherland Springs. In 2015, a white supremacist killed nine congregants in a church in Charleston, S.C.
It came amid rising anxiety about illegal immigration and in a decade that has seen an uptick in hate crimes. The Anti-Defamation League noted earlier this year that the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. surged 57 percent in 2017, the largest rise in a single year since the ADL began tracking such crimes in 1979.
The attack also came just days after George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and major donor to Democratic candidates who’s Jewish and who survived Nazi occupation in Hungary, received a pipe bomb in the mail.
Also in the past week, a Senate campaign sign for Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley was sprayed with a swastika.
On Saturday, the Tree of Life Congregation was holding services for three separate congregations when the gunman stormed in.
Police dispatchers received the first emergency calls at 9:54 a.m., Jones of the FBI said, and police officers, including a SWAT team, were dispatched a minute later.
The gunman had already shot and killed 11 people and was on his way out of the synagogue, Jones said, when he encountered police officers and shot at them.
He went back into the synagogue. He was in there for about 20 minutes, law enforcement officials said.
“By the time I got there they were already starting to extract people,” Police Chief Scott Schubert said.
Nearby residents were told to stay inside their homes. Ben Opie, 55, who can see the synagogue from his backyard, said his wife was about to leave their house to do some volunteer work when SWAT officers approached their home and said there was a gunman in the synagogue.
“They chased my wife inside,” he said. “They just said get in the house.”
Saturday night, authorities still were piecing together a portrait of Bowers, and had searched his apartment with a robotic bomb detector and police dogs. One official said he had 21 guns registered in his name.
Law enforcement officers run with a person on a stretcher at the scene of the rampage at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Spuirrel Hill neighborhood.
A man holds his head as he’s escorted out of the Tree of Life Congregation by police.
This is a Department of Motor Vehicles photo of Robert Bowers.