Syn­a­gogue At­tacker Kills 11

Sus­pect Left ‘Hor­rific’ Scene, Nabbed In Gun Bat­tle With Po­lice

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Front Page - By DEANNA PAUL, AVI SELK and AMY B WANG

PITTS­BURGH — A man armed with a semi­au­to­matic as­sault-style ri­fle stormed the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh Satur­day and shot wor­shipers dur­ing Shab­bat ser­vices, killing 11 and wound­ing six in the dead­li­est at­tack on Jews in the his­tory of the United States.

The mass shoot­ing tar­geted mem­bers of a syn­a­gogue that is an anchor of Pitts­burgh’s large and close-knit Jewish com­mu­nity, a mas­sacre that au­thor­i­ties im­me­di­ately la­beled a hate crime as they in­ves­ti­gated the sus­pect’s his­tory of anti-Semitic on­line screeds.

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials iden­ti­fied the al­leged shooter as Robert Bow­ers, 46, a Pitts­burgh res­i­dent who the FBI said was not pre­vi­ously known to law en­force­ment. Bow­ers was taken into cus­tody af­ter a gun bat­tle with po­lice. He was shot sev­eral times and was in fair con­di­tion at a hospi­tal, and is ex­pected to face fed­eral hate crime charges

A man with the name Robert Bow­ers had posted anti-Semitic slurs on so­cial me­dia be­fore the shoot­ing, ex­press­ing anger that a non­profit Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tion in the neigh­bor­hood has helped refugees set­tle in the United States. In what ap­peared to be

his fi­nal so­cial me­dia post hours be­fore the at­tack, the man wrote: “I can’t sit by and watch my peo­ple get slaugh­tered. Screw your op­tics, I’m go­ing in.”

Bow­ers al­legedly burst into the syn­a­gogue’s reg­u­lar Satur­day 9:45 a.m. ser­vice with an AR-15-style as­sault ri­fle and three

hand­guns, au­thor­i­ties said. Wit­nesses told po­lice he shouted anti-Semitic slurs and be­gan fir­ing. The syn­a­gogue, in the Squir­rel Hill neigh­bor­hood, did not have armed se­cu­rity guards.

Po­lice re­ceived calls about an ac­tive shooter at 9:54 a.m. and dis­patched of­fi­cers a minute later. Po­lice said Bow­ers left the build­ing and en­coun­tered the re­spond­ing of­fi­cers, shoot­ing one be­fore re­treat­ing into the syn­a­gogue to hide. More of­fi­cers re­sponded and, af­ter an ex­change of gun­fire, Bow­ers was struck with mul­ti­ple gun­shot wounds, was ar­rested and was taken to a hospi­tal, au­thor­i­ties said.

Four po­lice of­fi­cers were shot dur­ing the re­sponse and were in stable con­di­tion late Satur­day. It was un­clear late Satur­day whether Bow­ers was speak­ing with au­thor­i­ties or had an at­tor­ney.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors say Robert Bow­ers was charged Satur­day night in a 29-count crim­i­nal com­plaint. The charges in­clude ob­struct­ing the ex­er­cise of re­li­gious be­liefs re­sult­ing in death, 11 counts of us­ing a firearm to com­mit mur­der, weapons of­fenses and al­le­ga­tions that he se­ri­ously in­jured po­lice of­fi­cers while ob­struct­ing the ex­er­cise of re­li­gious be­liefs.

Once again, the sus­pect was a man armed with a semi­au­to­matic as­sault-style weapon — as was, for ex­am­ple, the gun­man who killed 49 peo­ple in the Or­lando, Fla., Pulse night­club in 2016. Once again the crime scene was a house of wor­ship, a clas­sic “soft tar­get,” as was the First Bap­tist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where a dis­turbed gun­man hop­ing to kill his mother-in-law slaugh­tered 26 peo­ple dur­ing a Sun­day ser­vice last Novem­ber.

And once again the vic­tims were mem­bers of an eth­nic or re­li­gious mi­nor­ity with a long his­tory of per­se­cu­tion — as were the nine African-Amer­i­can wor­shipers killed three years ago when a white su­prem­a­cist in­vaded a Bi­ble study ses­sion at the Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church in Charleston, S.C.

“This was the sin­gle most lethal and vi­o­lent at­tack on the Jewish com­mu­nity in the his­tory of the coun­try,” said Jonathan Green­blatt, CEO and na­tional di­rec­tor of the Anti-Defama­tion League. “We’ve never had an at­tack of such de­prav­ity where so many peo­ple were killed. ... When you go into a syn­a­gogue say­ing ‘I want to kill all the Jews,’ that’s a hate crime.”

Po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious and civic lead­ers con­demned Satur­day’s mas­sacre and vowed to sup­port the Jewish com­mu­nity.

“We sim­ply can­not ac­cept this vi­o­lence as a nor­mal part of Amer­i­can life,” Penn­syl­va­nia Gov. Tom Wolf said dur­ing an af­ter- noon news con­fer­ence, his voice shak­ing. “These sense­less acts of vi­o­lence are not who we are as Penn­syl­va­ni­ans, they’re not who we are as Amer­i­cans.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­nounced the mas­sacre and said some­thing needs to be done about such crimes, sug­gest­ing a more fre­quent and speed­ier use of the death penalty, say­ing it should be “brought into vogue.”

“It’s a ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble thing, what’s go­ing on with hate in our coun­try and frankly all over the world,” Trump said be­fore board­ing Air Force One on Satur­day af­ter­noon for a flight to In­di­anapo­lis. The pres­i­dent made a fullthroated de­nun­ci­a­tion of an­tiSemitism at a rally in Mur­phys­boro, Ill., later in the day: “This evil anti-Semitic at­tack is an as­sault on all of us. It’s an as­sault on hu­man­ity. It will re­quire all of us work­ing to­gether to ex­tract the hate­ful poi­son of anti-Semitism from our world.”

He said the mas­sacre could have been pre­vented if the syn­a­gogue had armed se­cu­rity guards.

The Anti-Defama­tion League, founded more than a cen­tury ago,

said Satur­day that anti-Semitic in­ci­dents rose 57 per­cent in 2017, with 1,986 doc­u­mented events, a spike the league at­trib­uted to an in­crease of such in­ci­dents in high schools and on col­lege cam­puses.

Carl Chinn, pres­i­dent of the non­profit Faith Based Se­cu­rity Net­work, said Satur­day’s mas­sacre was the 15th mass mur­der — de­fined as four or more fa­tal­i­ties — in a house of wor­ship in U.S. his­tory. The first was the 1963 Birm­ing­ham, Ala., bomb­ing of the 16th Street Bap­tist Church that killed four African-Amer­i­can girls, he said.

On Satur­day, mem­bers of the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue gath­ered at a makeshift grief cen­ter nearby to learn the fate of loved ones. On so­cial me­dia, syn­a­gogue mem­bers quickly re­layed news of who was safe. But there would be 11 names, all adults, miss­ing from the checkin.

Syn­a­gogue mem­ber Arnold Freed­man, 91, a psy­chol­o­gist, had in­tended to go to Tree of Life at 10 a.m., but he stayed home be­cause a re­pair­man was work­ing in his base­ment. He be­gan get­ting calls from friends as soon as the shoot­ing be­gan.

“Our cli­mate in the coun­try now is re­ally trou­bled. You see these hate crimes, and any­body on ei­ther side of the spec­trum, right or left, are go­ing to blame the other. It’s ter­ri­ble,” Freed­man said. “Un­for­tu­nately, there’s too many peo­ple like that, and they have too much ac­cess to guns.”

Chuck Di­a­mond, who grew up in Squir­rel Hill and was a rabbi at Tree of Life for seven years, said he had al­ways feared a day like this.

“When I was lead­ing the con­gre­ga­tion, I al­ways had in the back of my mind that some­thing like this will hap­pen,” Di­a­mond said. “It’s a ter­ri­ble thing to feel. When you come into our sanc­tu­ary, you want it to be a place that you feel safe in.”

As news of the shoot­ing spread, po­lice locked down nearby Rodef Shalom Con­gre­ga­tion, two blocks from the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue. Po­lice also raced to syn­a­gogues in Wash­ing­ton, New York City, Chicago and Los An­ge­les to pro­vide ad­di­tional se­cu­rity.

“It could have just as eas­ily been our con­gre­ga­tion,” said Rabbi Aaron Bisno of Rodef Shalom. “We don’t know what mo­ti­vated the shooter, but when some­thing like this strikes, the ran­dom­ness of it ter­ri­fies.”

The Tree of Life build­ing houses three syn­a­gogues and has mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ties that wor­ship si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Bisno said, call­ing it the “cen­ter of Jewish life on Shab­bat morn­ing.”

In re­cent years, Pitts­burgh brought on a for­mer FBI agent to act as a se­cu­rity point per­son, ac­cord­ing to Bisno. His con­gre­ga­tion re­cently went through an ac­tive-shooter train­ing. Satur­day was the first time there was a com­mu­nity need to put it into prac­tice.

The FBI said Satur­day that au­thor­i­ties be­lieve Bow­ers acted alone. Au­thor­i­ties who en­tered the crime scene de­scribed it as stun­ning in its sav­agery.

“This is the most hor­rific crime scene I’ve seen in 22 years with the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion,” said Robert Al­lan Jones, spe­cial agent in charge of the FBI’s Pitts­burgh field of­fice.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions called the shoot­ing “rep­re­hen­si­ble and ut­terly re­pug­nant to the val­ues of this na­tion” and said the Jus­tice Depart­ment will file hate crime and other charges “that could lead to the death penalty.”

“The ac­tions of Robert Bow­ers rep­re­sent the worst of hu­man­ity,” said Scott Brady, U.S. at­tor­ney for the Western District of Penn­syl­va­nia. “Jus­tice in this case will be swift and it will be se­vere.”

Gab, a so­cial me­dia plat­form that has at­tracted many far-right users, said Satur­day that the com­pany had sus­pended an ac­count that matched the al­leged shooter’s name, turn­ing the mes­sages over to the FBI. The ac­count in­cluded re­peated at­tacks on Jews, ref­er­ences to white su­prem­a­cist and neo-Nazi sym­bols, and at­tacks on the He­brew Im­mi­grant Aid So­ci­ety, known as HIAS, which works with the fed­eral govern­ment to re­set­tle refugees in Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties.

Mark Het­field, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of HAIS, said his agency has seen plenty of hate, and ac­tively works to help peo­ple who are flee­ing such hate. “But the United States is sup­posed to be a place of refuge, and a syn­a­gogue is sup­posed to be a place of refuge,” Het­field said.

The re­cent spate of mass shoot­ings led Tree of Life Rabbi Jef­frey My­ers to write on the syn­a­gogue’s blog, lament­ing the lack of na­tional ac­tion to ad­dress gun vi­o­lence in the wake of the Park­land school shoot­ing.

“Un­less there is a dra­matic turn­around in the midterm elec­tions, I fear that the sta­tus quo will re­main un­changed, and school shoot­ings will re­sume,” My­ers wrote. “I shouldn’t have to in­clude in my daily morn­ing prayers that God should watch over my wife and daugh­ter, both teach­ers, and keep them safe. Where are our lead­ers?”

Bow­ers

MATT ROURKE | AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PEO­PLE hold can­dles as they gather for a vigil in the Squir­rel Hill neigh­bor­hood of Pitts­burgh on Satur­day in the af­ter­math of a deadly shoot­ing at the Tree of Life Con­gre­ga­tion.

GENE J. PUSKAR | AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FIRST re­spon­ders stand out­side the Tree of Life Con­gre­ga­tion where a shooter opened fire Satur­day.

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