Gunman attacks synagogue, killing 11
PITTSBURGH — A shooter opened fire during a baby-naming ceremony at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, killing 11 people.
At least six other people were wounded, including four police officers who dashed to the scene, authorities said.
Police said a suspect was in custody after the attack at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. A law enforcement official identified the suspect as Robert Bowers and said he is in his 40s. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Bob Jones, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Pittsburgh, said Bowers was not known to law enforcement and that they believe he was acting alone. He said Bowers’ full motive still isn’t known.
The social media site Gab.com said the alleged shooter had a profile on its website, which is popular with far-right extremists. The company said the account was verified after the shooting and matched the name of the gunman.
A man with the same name posted on Gab before the shooting that “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.”
HIAS is a nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom. The organization says it is guided by Jewish values and history.
Bowers also recently posted a photo of a collection of three semi-automatic handguns he titled “my glock family,” a reference to the firearms manufacturer. He also posted photos of bullet holes in person-sized targets at a firing range, touting the “amazing trigger” on a handgun he was offering for sale.
City officials said the shooting was being investigated as a federal hate crime. It comes amid a rash of high-profile attacks in an increasingly divided country, including the series of pipe bombs mailed over the past week to prominent Democrats and former officials.
The shooting also immediately reignited the longstanding national debate about guns: President Donald Trump said the outcome might have been different if the synagogue “had some kind of protection” from an armed guard, while Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf noted that once again “dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way.”
The people who provided the death toll spoke to The Associated Press anonymously because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the shooting.
The attack took place during a baby-naming ceremony, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. It was unknown whether the baby was harmed.
“It is a very horrific crime scene. It’s one of the worst that I’ve seen and I’ve been on some plane crashes,” said a visibly moved Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director.
The synagogue is located in the tree-lined residential neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and the hub of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, said the group believes it is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.
“Our hearts break for the families of those killed and injured at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and for the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh,” Greenblatt said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “heartbroken and appalled” by the attack.
“The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead,” Netanyahu said. “We stand together with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. We stand together with the American people in the face of this horrendous anti-Semitic brutality. And we all pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded.”
Trump called the shooting a “wicked act of mass murder” that “is pure evil, hard to believe and frankly something that is unimaginable.”