NEW YORK—Eleven people were killed and several others injured in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday.
The shooting occurred at around 10:20 a.m. during a Brit Milah (circumcision) ceremony at The Tree of Life, a 150-year old Conservative movement congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, which has a substantial Jewish population.
The gunman, who opened fire in the building during morning services, was described as a 46-year-old white male who surrendered to SWAT, the special police elite unit teams on the scene. “All these Jews need to die,” the suspect said, according to reports.
The man was later identified as Robert Bowers. Posts believed to be from Bowers’ Twitter account shows pictures of several Glock pistols in their cases and derogatory remarks about refugees, Jewish people and Trump. In his last post, issued Saturday morning, Bowers criticized a refugee advocacy group who “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” Police found a lot of anti-Jewish posts from Bowers on social media.
There was reportedly no security guard at the synagogue.
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,” Michael Eisenberg, a past president of the synagogue, 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.”
Police said that at least three officers were hit in the gunfire exchanges.
In a tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump said that it “looks like multiple fatalities.”
‘’Watching the events unfolding in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Law enforcement on the scene. People in Squirrel Hill area should remain sheltered. Looks like multiple fatalities. Beware of active shooter. God Bless All!’’
Later, speaking to the media at Andrews Air Force Base following the shooting, Trump said ”U.S. needs to stiffen up death penalty laws.” “It’s a ‘terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country,” he said.
He told reporters the violence “has to stop.” The President 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.
He also said such shooters should receive the death penalty and “suffer the ultimate price.”
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said on Twitter that it was a “serious situation,” and the state police were helping local first responders.
Tree of Life, which merged five years ago with another congregation, Ohr L’Simncha, is on the same campus as two other synagogues: New Light, which is also Conservative, and Dor Hadash, a Reconstructionist synagogue.
The New York Police Department deployed extra officers to that city’s synagogues on Saturday morning.
The World Jewish Congress said it ”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.
“We commend the Pittsburgh police department for responding so quickly to this terrifying situation and preventing further casualties, and for effectively apprehending the assailant.” he added.
“It is unfathomable that in the United States of America, Jews or any one 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,” Lauder said.
Israeli Diaspora Affaits Minister Naftali Bennett announced that he would depart immediately to Pittsburgh.
The Minister will visit the scene of the attack, meet the local community and participate in the funerals of those killed in the attack.
“When Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the people of Israel feel pain,” Bennett said. “All Israel are responsible for one another The State of Israel is deeply pained by this terrible antisemitic murder. Our Jewish brothers and sisters came under a murderous attack while at prayer. Our hearts go out to the families of those killed, and we pray for the swift recovery of the injured, as we pray this is the last such event. Jewish blood is not free.”
Bennett said he would offer strength to the Pittsburgh Jewish community and its leaders and examine how Israel can offer assistance. As Diaspora Affairs Minister, Bennett has made a point of assisting American communities when tragedies have happened, including following last year’s flooding in Houston.