Man opens fire at Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue, killing 11

The State (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY DEANNA PAUL, AVI SELK, AMY B WANG AND MARK BER­MAN

A gun­man armed with an as­sault ri­fle killed 11 peo­ple at a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue dur­ing Satur­day morn­ing ser­vices in what the An­tidefama­tion 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 HIAS, 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 “anti-semitic 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.

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.

AN­DREW STEIN AP

Women in Pitts­burgh hug af­ter a mass shoot­ing at Tree of Life Syn­a­gogue on Satur­day. The sus­pect in­ter­rupted a baby-nam­ing ser­vice at about 10 a.m. Wit­nesses told po­lice he burst in shout­ing anti-semitic slurs and be­gan fir­ing.

GENE J. PUSKAR AP

Peo­ple gather on a cor­ner near the Tree of Life Syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh. Dur­ing a brief stand­off, the man ranted about need­ing to kill Jews, po­lice dis­patch­ers said.

Robert Bow­ers

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