(October 27, 2018 / JNS) At least 11 people have been reported dead and several injured as a result of a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
The shooting took place at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, a historic Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh, as the synagogue was observing its weekly Shabbat services.
Michael Eisenberg, a past president of the synagogue, said at least three congregations—Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash—would be holding services in the building at the time.
“On a day like today, the door is open,” Eisenberg told a reporter for Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate KDKA. “It’s a religious service. You could walk in and out. Only on the High Holidays is there a police presence at the entrance.”
According to KDKA, the suspect is 46-year-old Robert Bowers, who surrendered to police at the scene of the shooting.
“I will emphasize at this time that there appears to be no active threat to the community. We believe the subject that is responsible for this has been taken into custody,” said Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich.
Police sources told KDKA that when Bowers walked into the synagogue, he purportedly yelled, “All Jews must die.”
The alleged killer, armed with a rifle and hand guns, apparently had a history of making anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant threats.
On the alt-right social-network site called Gab, which has suspended the killer’s page, he recently wrote: “HIAS likes to bring invaders to kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is a nonprofit organization with Jewish roots that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the Department of Justice “will file hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant, including charges that could lead to the death penalty.”
American Jewish community expresses outrage and grief
Despite the incident falling on Shabbat, the American Jewish community was quick to react to the shooting, expressing condolences to the victims and outrage at a attack on a peaceful house of worship.
“The World Jewish Congress is shocked and horrified by the heinous act of terror that unfolded this morning at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and all the people of Pittsburgh,” said WJC President Ronald S. Lauder.
“It is unfathomable that in the United States of America, Jews or anyone else should have to live in fear of being targeted simply because of who they are and where they choose to worship. This was an attack not just on the Jewish community, but on America as a whole. We must condemn this attack at the highest levels and do everything in our power to stop such atrocities from happening again.”
Strong words were sent out by the Conference of Presidents of Major Organizations. “This hate-driven murderous assault on innocent people attending a religious service must be condemned by all people who care about our society and country. But words are not enough,” said executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein. “There must be concrete action at every level to address the promoters of hate and the sources of incitement to violence if we are to root out racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism, which has increased significantly in recent years. There must be zero tolerance for intolerance. No excuses, no exceptions.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in statement on Twitter that the fact that “Jews were targeted on Shabbat morning at synagogue, a holy place of worship, is unconscionable. Our hearts break for the victims, their families and the entire Jewish community.”
The American Holocaust Memorial Museum also condemned the shooting, saying that the incident “reminds all Americans of the dangers of unchecked hatred and anti-Semitism, which must be confronted wherever they appear and calls on all Americans to actively work to promote social solidarity and respect the dignity of all individuals.”
Israeli leaders also weighed in.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on social media, “I was heartbroken and appalled by the murderous attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue today.”
“On behalf of the Israeli public, I extend our condolences to the families. We stand as one against anti-Semitism and such barbaric violence,” he said.
President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement: “We are thinking of our brothers and sisters, the whole house of Israel, in this time of trouble. We are thinking of the families of those who were murdered and praying for the quick recovery of those who were injured.”
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon also responded, saying “we will stand together like a rock against hatred and against those who try to harm Jews all over the world.”
Trump says situation ‘far more devastating than originally thought’
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said on Twitter that it was a “serious situation,” and that state troopers are assisting local police.
“This is an absolutely tragedy,” Wolf tweeted. “These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans. My thoughts right now are focused on the victims, their families and making sure law enforcement has every resource they need.”
U.S. President Donald Trump also reacted to the shooting on Twitter, saying the events are “far more devastating than originally thought.”
“Spoke with Mayor and Governor to inform them that the Federal Government has been, and will be, with them all the way. I will speak to the media shortly and make further statement at Future Farmers of America.”
However, Trump may have also reignited a debate over gun control following the shooting. Asked by a reporter about revisiting gun laws as a result of the latest mass shooting, Trump said: “Well, again this has little to do with it if you take a look, if they had protection inside, the results would have been far better. This is a dispute that will always exist.”