Shout­ing slurs, man opens fire in syn­a­gogue, killing 11

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY DEANNA PAUL, AVI SELK AND AMY B WANG Wash­ing­ton Post

A gun­man be­lieved to have spewed anti-Semitic slurs on so­cial me­dia barged into a baby-nam­ing cer­e­mony at a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue on Satur­day and opened fire, killing 11 peo­ple.

A gun­man armed with an as­sault ri­fle 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 vir­u­lently anti-Semitic state­ments on­line — was taken into cus­tody af­ter a gun bat­tle with po­lice and is ex­pected to face fed­eral hate crime charges.

“Jus­tice in this case will be swift and it will be se­vere,” said Scott Brady, the U.S. At­tor­ney for the West­ern District of Penn­syl­va­nia. Brady said Bow­ers could be charged soon for what he

called a “ter­ri­ble and un­speak­able act of hate.”

Author­i­ties de­scribed a ram­page at the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue, the city’s old­est Jew­ish con­gre­ga­tion, that was 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. “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.”

All 11 peo­ple killed were adults, Pitts­burgh Pub­lic Safety Di­rec­tor Wen­dell His­s­rich said. Six peo­ple were also wounded, four of them po­lice of­fi­cers re­spond­ing to the gun­fire, he said.

Wit­nesses told po­lice that Bow­ers burst into the syn­a­gogue shout­ing an­tiSemitic state­ments and be­gan fir­ing. His­s­rich said author­i­ties be­gan to re­ceive calls about an ac­tive shooter at the syn­a­gogue at 9:54 a.m., and of­fi­cers were dis­patched one minute later.

Jones said that Bow­ers en­tered the syn­a­gogue, gunned down 11 peo­ple and was leav­ing when he en­coun­tered re­spond­ing of­fi­cers. He fired at an of­fi­cer who was wounded and then went back into the syn­a­gogue to hide, Jones said. More of­fi­cers re­sponded, and af­ter an ex­change of gun­fire, Bow­ers was taken to a hos­pi­tal with mul­ti­ple gun­shot wounds, author­i­ties said.

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.”

His­s­rich de­clined to say whether Bow­ers was speak­ing to author­i­ties, and it was not im­me­di­ately clear if he had an at­tor­ney.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions called the shoot­ing “rep­re­hen­si­ble and ut­terly re­pug­nant to the val­ues of this na­tion. Ac­cord­ingly, the De­part­ment of Jus­tice will file hate crimes and other crim­i­nal charges against the de­fen­dant, in­clud­ing charges that could lead to the death penalty.”

Bow­ers ap­peared to have re­peat­edly tar­geted Jew­ish peo­ple us­ing an ac­count on the so­cial me­dia site gab, which is pop­u­lar with white su­prem­a­cists and far-right users. Gab de­ac­ti­vated an ac­count un­der Bow­ers’ name shortly af­ter the shoot­ing Satur­day.

Mes­sages posted by the ac­count un­der his name, re­cov­ered be­fore it was de­ac­ti­vated, in­cluded white su­prem­a­cist sym­bols and anti-Semitic mes­sag­ing. Re­cent post­ings specif­i­cally fo­cused on the He­brew Im­mi­grant Aid So­ci­ety, known as HIAS, which is one of nine or­ga­ni­za­tions that works with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to re­set­tle refugees in Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties.

“HIAS likes to bring in­vaders in that kill our peo­ple. I can’t sit by and watch my peo­ple get slaugh­tered. Screw your op­tics, I’m go­ing in,” reads a post­ing on the ac­count that ap­pears to have been pub­lished just be­fore the shoot­ing Satur­day morn­ing.

Mark Het­field, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of HAIS, has no for­mal re­la­tion­ship with the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue but has helped hun­dreds of refugees re­set­tle in the Pitts­burgh area in re­cent years.

“Our agency is the old­est refugee agency in the world, and we’ve seen some hor­ri­ble dark pe­ri­ods in our time, and we’ve seen plenty of hate, and refugees by def­i­ni­tion are flee­ing hate,” Het­field said. “But the United States is sup­posed to be a place of refuge, and a syn­a­gogue is sup­posed to be a place of refuge.”

The ac­count that ap­peared to be­long to Bow­ers was rife with big­oted mes­sag­ing.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Satur­day de­scribed the shoot­ing in Pitts­burgh as “pure evil” and an “an­tiSemitic act.”

“It looks def­i­nitely like it’s an anti-Semitic crime,” Trump said Satur­day af­ter­noon. “That is some­thing you wouldn’t be­lieve could still be go­ing on.”

Ear­lier Satur­day, Trump also sug­gested that armed se­cu­rity at the syn­a­gogue might have pre­vented the at­tack. He has reg­u­larly sug­gested that af­ter shoot­ing ram­pages, even fol­low­ing some high-pro­file mas­sacres that oc­curred de­spite law en­force­ment of­fi­cers be­ing present.

The vi­o­lence Satur­day — the lat­est in Amer­ica’s seem­ingly un­end­ing string of mass shoot­ings at seem­ingly safe pub­lic places — oc­curred at a syn­a­gogue in a leafy res­i­den­tial en­clave near Carnegie Mel­lon Uni- ver­sity, one of the larger pre­dom­i­nantly Jew­ish neigh­bor­hoods in the United States. Its “tra­di­tional, pro­gres­sive and egal­i­tar­ian” con­gre­ga­tion was formed in 1864.

It is un­clear how many were in the syn­a­gogue at the time of the shoot­ing, which oc­curred at around the time syn­a­gogues around the coun­try host reg­u­lar ser­vices for the Shab­bat hol­i­day. Ac­cord­ing to an on­line cal­en­dar, there would have been a Shab­bat ser­vice sched­uled for 9:45 a.m. Satur­day.

The syn­a­gogue’s main sanc­tu­ary can hold up to 1,250 guests, 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.

The shoot­ing comes dur­ing an sharp spike in anti-Semitic ac­tiv­i­ties in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to an Anti-Defama­tion League re­port re­leased ear­lier this year. From 2016 to 2017, in­stances of anti-Semitic ha­rass­ment, van­dal­ism and as­sault in­creased 57 per­cent, the largest sin­gle-year jump since ADL be­gan track­ing the data in the 1970s.

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

ALEXAN­DRA WIM­LEY AP

Law en­force­ment of­fi­cers se­cure the scene where mul­ti­ple peo­ple were shot Satur­day at the Tree of Life Con­gre­ga­tion in Pitts­burgh's Squir­rel Hill neigh­bor­hood.

Res­i­dents talk to the me­dia near the site of Satur­day’s mass shoot­ing at the Tree of Life Syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh.

GENE J. PUSKAR AP

Peo­ple gather on a cor­ner near the Tree of Life Syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh, Pa., where a shooter opened fire Satur­day.

AN­DREW STEIN AP

Women in Pitts­burgh hug af­ter a mass shoot­ing at Tree of Life Syn­a­gogue on Satur­day.

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