Shouting slurs, man kills 11 in Pittsburgh synagogue
A gunman killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue during Saturday morning services in what the Anti-Defamation League called “likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”
Law enforcement officials said Robert Bowers – a 46-year-old man with a history of making antiSemitic statements online – surrendered to police after a gun battle and is expected to face hate crime charges.
The hourlong incident left 11 dead at Tree of Life Congregation, according to Lynette Lederman, executive assistant to city council member Corey O’Connor. Lederman, who is also a former president of Tree of Life and a senior member of the Jewish community, said six others were shot – including four police officers.
“It’s a very horrific crime scene,” Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich told reporters in the afternoon, after Bowers had been apprehended. “One of the worst that I’ve seen. And I’ve been on some plane crashes.”
The suspect interrupted a baby-naming service at about 10 a.m, Pennsylvania’s attorney general told The Associated Press. Witnesses told police he burst in shouting anti-Semitic slurs and began firing.
Stephen Weiss recalled hearing gunshots and fleeing the building through the sanctuary. “We had services going on in the chapel when we heard a loud noise in the lobby area,” he told the Tribune-Review.
KDKA reported that police confronted the suspect near the synagogue entrance. Witnesses said one officer was wounded in an initial firefight, and two more were shot when they tried to corner the gunman upstairs.
The man ranted about needing to kill Jews during a brief standoff, police dispatchers said on the radio.
He surrendered to police about 11 a.m., an hour or so after the shooting began.
Dispatchers said he had a pistol on his ankle and another in his waistband and had been injured. KDKA reported that he came out crawling.
By Saturday afternoon, members of the synagogue were gathering at a grief center waiting to hear about friends and family members caught in the shooting.
“It’s one of my biggest fears,” said Chuck Diamond, who worked as a rabbi at Tree of Life for seven years. “When I was leading the congregation, I always had in the back of my mind that something like this will happen. It’s a terrible thing to feel.”
Gab, a social media platform that has attracted
many far-right users, released a statement on Saturday, saying the company had suspended an account that “matched the name of the alleged shooter’s name” and turned the messages over to the FBI.
An unverified image of the deleted account shows a stream of anti-Semitic messages leading up to the shooting.
“Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist,” the user “Robert Bowers” posted after a rally last week in which President Donald Trump invoked both terms to declare himself a nationalist.
Trump has repeatedly slammed “globalists” in his public rhetoric, despite warnings that the term is understood to mean Jews in anti-Semitic circles. That’s evidently what it means to the Gab user “Robert Bowers,” whose messages suggest disillusionment with the president.
“It looks definitely like it’s an anti-Semitic crime,” Trump told reporters Saturday afternoon. “That is something you wouldn’t believe could still be going on.”
The Tree of Life syn- agogue is located in a leafy residential enclave near Carnegie Mellon University – one of the larger predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in the United States. Its “traditional, progressive and egalitarian” congregation, formed in 1864, is Pittsburgh’s oldest Jewish congregation.
It’s the “center of Jewish life on Shabbat morning,” said Rabbi Aaron Bisno of the Rodef Shalom Congregation, two blocks away.
It is unclear how many were in the synagogue at the time of the shooting. According to an online calendar, there would have been a Shabbat service scheduled for
9:45 a.m. Saturday.
The synagogue’s main sanctuary, a cavernous space with soaring stained-glass windows that depict the story of creation, can hold up to 1,250 people, according to the Tree of Life’s website.
Police in Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles all said they were increasing patrols at synagogues and other houses of worship following the Pittsburgh attack as precautionary measures.
Speaking to reporters at Joint Base Andrews on Saturday, Trump said the shooting was “far more devastating than anybody originally thought” but did not offer details. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing, what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world, and something has to be done,” he said.
When asked if he should revisit gun laws, Trump said: “This has little to do with it, if you take a look. If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better.”
It’s unclear whether the synagogue had security measures in place.
The shooting comes during an sharp spike in anti-Semitic activities in the U.S., according to an Anti-Defamation League report released this year. From 2016 to 2017, instances of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and assault increased 57 percent, the largest singleyear jump since ADL began tracking the data in the 1970s.
“This is close to an all-time high,” Greenblatt told The Post then.
‘‘ IT’S ONE OF MY BIGGEST FEARS. WHEN I WAS LEADING THE CONGREGATION, I ALWAYS HAD IN THE BACK OF MY MIND THAT SOMETHING LIKE THIS WILL HAPPEN. Chuck Diamond, who worked as a rabbi at Tree of Life for seven years
Law enforcement officers secure the scene where multiple people were shot Saturday in Pittsburgh.