PITTSBURGH (AP) — A shooter opened fire during a baby naming ceremony at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, killing an unknown number of people and wounding six others 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.

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.

It was unclear how many people were killed Saturday.

President Donald Trump told reporters at the airport in Indianapolis that there were “a lot of people killed” and “a lot of people very badly wounded.”

Police earlier said “several” died. Six were wounded, including the four police officers, said a visibly moved Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director.

“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,” Hissrich said.

The attack took place during a baby naming ceremony, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. It was unknown whether the baby was harmed.

The synagogue is located at the intersection of Wilkins and Shady avenues. The tree-lined residential neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, is the hub of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.

Until the suspect was taken into custody, the neighborhood and all synagogues in the city were in a lockdown, with people ordered to remain indoors.

Trump called the shooting “far more devastating than anyone thought,” saying “it’s a terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country.”

Trump also said the outcome might have been different if the synagogue “had some kind of protection” from an armed guard and suggested that might be a good idea for all churches and synagogues.

Offering a different take, Pennsylvania Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, called the shooting an “absolute tragedy” in a statement that made reference to calls for tighter gun control laws.

“We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life,” Wolf said. “But we have been saying “this one is too many” for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder called the shooting “an attack not just on the Jewish community, but on America as a whole.”

In 2010, Tree of Life Congregation — founded more than 150 years ago — merged with Or L’Simcha to form Tree of Life (asterisk) Or L’Simcha.

The synagogue is a fortress-like concrete building, its facade punctuated by rows of swirling, modernistic stained-glass windows illustrating the story of creation, the acceptance of God’s law, the “life cycle” and “how human-beings should care for the earth and one another,” according to its website. Among its treasures is a “Holocaust Torah,” rescued from Czechoslovakia.

Its sanctuary can hold up to 1,250 guests.

Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the Tree of Life Synagogue, lives about a block from the building.

He was getting ready for services when he received a phone call from a member who works with Pittsburgh’s Emergency Services, saying he had been notified through scanner and other communications that there was an active shooter at their synagogue.

“I ran out of the house without changing and I saw the street blocked with police cars. It was a surreal scene. And someone yelled, ‘Get out of here.’ I realized it was a police officer along the side of the house. … I am sure I know all of the people, all of the fatalities. I am just waiting to see,” Eisenberg said.

He said officials at the synagogue had not gotten any threats that he knew of prior to the shooting. The synagogue maintenance employees had recently checked all of the emergency exits and doors to make sure they were cleared and working.

“I spoke to a maintenance person who was in the building and heard the shots. He was able to escape through one of the side exit doors we had made sure was functioning,” Eisenberg said.

Jeff Finkelstein of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh said local synagogues have done “lots of training on things like active shooters, and we’ve looked at hardening facilities as much as possible.”

“This should not be happening, period,” he told reporters at the scene. “This should not be happening in a synagogue.”

Just three days before the shooting, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers posted a column on the congregation’s website, noting that people make time to attend funerals, but not for life’s happy occasions.

“There is a story told in the Talmud of a wedding procession and a funeral procession heading along parallel roads, with the roads intersecting,” Myers wrote on Wednesday. “The question asked is: when they meet at the fork, which procession goes first, funeral or wedding? The correct answer is wedding, as the joy of the couple takes precedence. In fact, the funeral procession is to move out of sight so that their joy is not lessened.”

Myers ended his column with words that now seem all too prescient.

“We value joy so much in Judaism that upon taking our leave from a funeral or a shiva house, the customary statement one makes (in Yiddish) is ‘nor oyf simches’ – only for s’machot,” Myers wrote. “While death is inevitable and a part of life, we still take our leave with the best possible blessing, to meet at joyous events. And so I say to you: nor oyf simches!”

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Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Washington, Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia and Allen G. Breed in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

25 replies on “UPDATE: Suspect in custody in deadly Pittsburgh synagogue attack”

  1. Will cnn blame Louis Farrakan? Of course not. Farrakhan has too many Democrat leaders as buddies.

    1. Who, Dino? Kurt? He’s wrong? Sadly, he’s not. I’m not even going to reply to that absolutely insane crap below.

      1. call1911 wrote, “Who, Dino? Kurt? He’s wrong? Sadly, he’s not.”

        So in the original comment on this story Kurt claimed that the shooting in Philly should be blamed on, Louis Farrakan and that CNN was covering it up because of Democrats. You are now reinforceing Kurt’s claim that Farrakan and possibly CNN and at least some Democrats bear some responsibility for Robert Bowers actions? Do you have a citation to back up your claim? I’d like to see your evidence, I’m sure others would too, call1911.

      2. Call,

        I find it remarkably classless for Kurt to somehow bring Farrakhan into this. There are plenty of anti semites, and there are plenty of people who are not anti semites.

        Further, to somehow make it partisan.

        And an attack on the media.

        All in just 16 words, it is amazing.

  2. Quoting from an article published in The Atlantic, by Adam Serwer headlined, “Trump’s Caravan Hysteria Led to This: The president and his supporters insisted that several thousand Honduran migrants were a looming menace—and the Pittsburgh gunman took that seriously.”

    The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact.

    Serwer’s article can be found here: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/caravan-lie-sparked-massacre-american-jews/574213/

    1. Everything you wrote is not fact like you claim..just a really dumb opinion. Trump needed help for his party to win the midterm so he decided to have this guy shoot a bunch of people. Maybe you should no troll on cnn or msnbc with your opinion piece

      1. Todd wrote: “Maybe you should no troll on cnn or msnbc with your opinion piece”

        I’m not a “troll” Todd. I suppose calling me one is just your way of trying to diminish what I feel is important here in the comment section graciously provided by the Wausau Pilot and Review (Shereen) so that readers can make their thoughts known.

        With regard to your comment about the “dumb opinion” that I referenced, there is a correlation between our president’s hate speech and lies and an demonstrable increase in acts of violence committed by those who cast their lot with the “right wing” in our country. For examples see: Medi Hassan’s piece in THE INTERCEPT, “Here Is a List of Far-Right Attackers Trump Inspired. Cesar Sayoc Wasn’t the First — and Won’t Be the Last.” Trump’s claim that he is a “Nationalist,” weather true or not, was a blatant attempt on his part to provide assurances to some of the most heinous, racist organized elements in our nation that he stands with them – that should not be O.K. to anyone who believes in our Constitution.

        A Rabbi from Pittsburgh said, on the radio this morning, “a small light dispels darkness.” I couldn’t agree more.

      2. citykid…you know whats funny. I read that entire article to give you the benefit of the doubt. Hoping for statistical graphs that show correlation. usually that is what is needed to make such a claim. To see an actual trend.

        what i found was some examples of crazy people and at the end even the author is admitted this…

        “It would be wrong, of course, to blame Trump alone for these attacks. Many of these alleged attackers have mental health issues; quite a few of them were also men of violence, intolerance, and bigotry long before Trump launched his political career.”

        so where are the facts again? Your feelings don’t make what you read true.

      3. Todd wrote: “what i found was some examples of crazy people and at the end even the author is admitted this…”

        Todd you did cherry pick the quote. The author, Mehdi Hasan, did provide a reference (link) – you must have missed in a paragraph below the one you chose:

        “Or that, as one study found, “one in five perpetrators of hate violence incidents referenced President Trump, a Trump policy, or a Trump campaign slogan” between November 2016 and November 2017?”

        Though honestly I think there is ample anecdotal evidence to link Trump and some of his supporters to an increase in hate crimes like the shooting at the temple in PA.

        You might have a look at Müller, Karsten and Schwarz, Carlo, Making America Hate Again? Twitter and Hate Crime Under Trump (March 30, 2018). A study which does show a correlation, if that’s what you need. It was discussed in Scientific American, “Do Trump Tweets Spur Hate Crimes?,” on 2018 June 26.

      4. Todd, Did you read the article published in The Atlantic, have you seen the quotes and heard the very words thatTrump said? I have been contacted by former students from NTC who are from Central America… these caravan people are refugees and are seeking asylum, they face death and are not safe in their own countries, so they migrate North to the Promise Land… their is no verification that gang members, middle eastern terrorists are involved and random and rampant rumors are created, so a peaceful pilgrimage to save the lies and seek a better future are hardly onerous…

        Meanwhile, The Tree of Life Jewish Congregation, like many other congregations and communities have taken in refugees in the past and helped them establish lives in America… legally.

        But the angry and ill informed speech of Our President is promoting violence… white supremacists took action into their own hands attacking Jews in Pittsburgh and killing Blacks

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/10/28/how-gab-became-white-supremacist-sanctuary-before-it-was-linked-pittsburgh-suspect/?utm_term=.093036e0d5fe
        “There was a blue check mark next to Robert Bowers’s name, meaning that the social media account was verified. His bio said that “jews are the children of satan,” his banner image a clear reference to a white supremacist meme. His last message, posted Saturday morning, read, “Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

        The account is believed to belong to the same Robert Bowers who is suspected of opening fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people and wounding six others.

        The profile, which has since been removed, lived on Gab, a social media platform that has become a haven for white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other adherents to extreme ideologies that have found themselves increasingly unwelcome on Twitter and Facebook.”

        JEFFERSONTOWN, Ky. — A white man with a history of violence fatally shot two African-American customers at a Kroger grocery store and was swiftly arrested as he tried to flee, authorities said Thursday.

        The Courier Journal of Louisville reported that the suspect made a racial comment to a man whom he encountered on his way out.

        The FBI announced that it was “evaluating the evidence to determine if there were any violations of federal law.”

        Gregory Alan Bush walked into the store near Louisville, pulled a gun from his waist and shot a man in the back of the head, then kept shooting him multiple times “as he was down on the floor.” He then reholstered his gun, walked outside and killed a woman in the parking lot, according to a police report.

        And we also know that bombs were mailed to 14 people by a guy living in his van and it was covered with Trump posters and people with targets on them, mostly democrats, two presidents, etc…

        This is wrong and there is no way to spin this… Trump has appealed to the fears and anxieties of people with xenophobia and he started the fire and needs to do a 180.

  3. Dino, blaming Farrakan is FAR more legitimate than putting ANY blame on President Trump. Seriously, do even TEN freaking seconds worth of researching his speeches and what he truly believes in, then let me know it’s far fetched or “classless”.

    1. agreed! dino must be living in a bubble. Farrakan literally! calls for the death of white people and jews. not only that he puts it up on twitter and in all of his speeches. soooo going off topic why does he still have a twitter account? bias much twitter? everything is a hypocrosy with the left

      1. We shortened the comment threshold to keep comments more concise and no more than a single link per post is allowed, to cut down on spamming. If they’re being declined, please shorten them and try again.

  4. I am well aware of the anti semitic comments of Farahkhan.

    But, I am well aware of all the other anti semites in the world. I think we can blame the guy who shot the gun.

    I think the forces that create anti semitism existed before Farakhan, and will exist after.

    I did not blame the President for a person shooting anyone.

    1. Dino, you are using “Anti Semitic” in every other sentence. The majority of present day Jews are not Semites. They are mainly Khazarians mixed with Slavic Ukrainians and Germanic. Most Arabs are Semites and I do not recall anyone using “Anti Semitic” when Arabs are persecuted. When using “Honduran migrants were a looming menace” I do not see anyone use “Anti Mesoamerica”. I do not recall any group of people on this planet when persecuted or hated having an exclusive “Anti their race” expression. Imagine if one will use “Jewish migrants were a looming menace”. Apparently we all are comfortable to insult different groups, except Jews. This event was unfortunate and it was not the first time. It seams this has been going on for over 3500 years in almost every corner of this planet. No one wants to ask WHY in order to fix the problem, it will keep on happening. It all comes to one thing “Integration” as in be part of the majority.

      1. Holy Christ Ron. Does ANY of that matter at all? Common parlance, violence committed against Jewish people, because they are Jewish is referred to as anti semitic.

        You are toeing that line arent you? Excited to see where you go next.

      2. Violence committed against Catholic people, because they are Catholic is referred to as anti Roman? anti Aryan? anti Italian? The proper way will be Anti Christian and for Jews will be Anti Jewish. Hope it will sink in!

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