‘Horrific’ Pa. synagogue shooting kills at least 11
Official: Suspect yelled anti-Semitic epithets during attack
Robert Bowers, 46, has been identified as the suspect in Saturday’s “horrific” mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, according to a law enforcement official.
Police took Bowers into custody after the rampage that resulted in at least 11 fatalities and six injuries, according to the Associated Press. Four of the six injured were police officers, three of whom were shot, according to the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department.
Bowers allegedly burst into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and screamed, “All Jews must die!” – among other anti-Semitic epithets – as he opened fire
on the congregants, according to the law enforcement official.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly, said the suspect was armed with at least one rifle.
The official said the suspect left a trail of anti-Semitic rants on social media accounts, prompting authorities to designate the FBI as the lead agency to investigate the attack as an alleged hate crime.
“It’s a very horrific crime scene,” Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said at a news conference. “It’s one of the worst I’ve seen.”
Teams of armed police swarmed the neighborhood near downtown Pittsburgh just before 10 a.m. Saturday. Residents were urged to shelter in place as armed law enforcement agents canvassed the neighborhood.
Speaking to reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, President Donald Trump praised law enforcement’s response in the shooting and called the suspect in custody a “madman” and a “wacko.”
He said he would like to see more armed guards at synagogues and other places of worship and impose more death penalty sentences on convicted murderers.
“It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country and, frankly, all over the world,” Trump said. “Something has to be done.”
“It’s a very horrific crime scene. It’s one of the worst I’ve seen.” Wendell Hissrich Pittsburgh public safety director
Posts believed to be from Bowers’ social media accounts show pictures of several Glock pistols in their cases and derogatory remarks about refugees, Jewish people and Trump. The last such post on the social network Gab, issued Saturday morning, criticized a refugee advocacy group that “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.”
“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” the author wrote. “Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
At the scene, Pittsburgh Police Commander Jason Lando told reporters that the shooting took place near the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
Squirrel Hill is a Jewish enclave near Carnegie Mellon University. A little more than 50 percent of Greater Pittsburgh’s Jewish community lives in or around the neighborhood, said Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Tree of Life’s immediate past president, Michael Eisenberg, told KDKA-TV that there were three congregations meeting simultaneously, probably totaling about 100 people, at the time of the shooting. They were gathered in the main part of the building, as well in the basement and in the rabbi study room, he said.
The shooting occurred during a baby naming service. Eisenberg said he spoke with a maintenance man who hid in a bathroom during the shooting and witnessed a congregant being shot before fleeing through an exit.
Eisenberg said he was on his way to a service there when he noticed police swarming the streets.
“There were police cars everywhere, guns drawn, rifles,” he told KDKA-TV. “It was surreal.”
In the interview, Eisenberg said synagogue officials recently adjusted the exit doors to make them easier to open, which probably saved lives Saturday. During Saturday services, the front door is kept unlocked, allowing visitors to come and go freely, he told KDKA-TV.
Police respond to an activeshooter situation Saturday at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.