People shocked after the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. (AP/Gene J. Puskar) (AP/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh massacre

“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,” Netanyahu stated. 

By: AP and United with Israel Staff

Israel’s leadership across the spectrum expressed deep sorrow and shock after a gunman, who’s believed to have spewed anti-Semitic slurs and rhetoric on social media, barged into a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday and opened fire, killing 11 people in one of the deadliest attacks on Jews in US history.

The 20-minute attack at the Tree of Life congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood left six others wounded, including four police officers who dashed to the scene, authorities said.

The suspect, Robert Bowers, traded gunfire with police and was shot several times. Bowers, who was in fair condition at a hospital, was charged late Saturday with 29 federal counts, including hate crimes and weapons offenses. It wasn’t immediately known if Bowers had an attorney to speak on his behalf.

“Please know that justice in this case will be swift and it will be severe,” Scott Brady, the chief federal prosecutor in western Pennsylvania, said at a news conference, characterizing the slaughter as a “terrible and unspeakable act of hate.”

President Donald Trump ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the US to be flown at half-staff in “solemn respect” for the shooting victims. He said he planned to travel to Pittsburgh.

‘A Very Horrific Crime Scene’

Authorities say that just before 10 a.m., Bowers entered the large synagogue with an assault rifle and three handguns. Three separate congregations were conducting Sabbath services in different areas of the large building, according to Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of Tree of Life. The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office said it was told by victims that a brit milah — a ritual circumcision ceremony at which a baby boy also receives his Hebrew name — was also taking place, though law enforcement officials later said no children were among the dead or wounded.

“It is a very horrific crime scene,” said a visibly moved Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director. “It’s one of the worst that I’ve seen.”

Bob Jones, head of the FBI’s Pittsburgh office, said that worshippers “were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith,” though he cautioned the shooter’s full motive was not yet known.

Bowers, who had no apparent criminal record, expressed virulently anti-Semitic views on a social media site called Gab, according to an Associated Press review of an archived version of the posts made under his name. The cover photo for his account featured a neo-Nazi symbol, and his recent posts included a photo of a fiery oven like those used in Nazi concentration camps used to cremate Jews during World War II.

Other posts referenced false conspiracy theories suggesting the Holocaust — in which six million Jews were murdered — was a hoax. He wrote of a Jewish “infestation,” using a slur for Jews.

Gab confirmed Bowers had a profile on its website that was popular with far-right extremists.

‘Heartbroken and Appalled’

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.”

President Reuven Rivlin stated that Israel’s “thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the events in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We are thinking of ’our brothers and sisters, the whole house of Israel, in this time of trouble’ as we say in the morning prayers. We are thinking of the families of those who were murdered and praying for the quick recovery of those who were injured.”

“I am sure that the law enforcement agencies and the legal authorities in the US will investigate this horrific event thoroughly and that justice will be served on the despicable murderer,” he added.

Naftali Bennett, Minister of Education and Minister of Diaspora Affairs, stated that “when Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the people of Israel feel pain. All Israel are responsible for one another.” He will fly to visit the community.

Dani Dayan, Consul General of Israel in New York who represents the country in Pennsylvania, arrived in Pittsburgh “to be with our brethren in this tragic hour, to pay respect to the murdered, to pray for the recovery of the wounded and to embrace a grieving Jewish community I love.”

Thousands of people, some holding candles, gathered for a vigil in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Saturday night in honor of the victims, whose names were not immediately released.

‘All Good Americans Stand with the Jewish People’

At a political rally in Murphysboro, Illinois, Trump said “the evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us.”

The said that anti-Semitism must be “confronted and condemned everywhere it rears it very ugly head.” He called for the imposition of the death penalty for “crimes like this.”

Ivanka Trump, the president’s Jewish daughter, tweeted that “America is stronger than the acts of a depraved bigot and anti-Semite.”

“All good Americans stand with the Jewish people to oppose acts of terror & share the horror, disgust & outrage over the massacre in Pittsburgh. We must unite against hatred & evil,” she added.

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. The facade of the fortress-like concrete building is 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 people.

Chuck Diamond, a former rabbi at the synagogue who retired more than a year ago, said the building is locked during the week and outfitted with security cameras, “but on Sabbath it’s an open door.”

“You know, you’re always worried that something would happen,” said Myron Snider, head of the cemetery committee for New Light Congregation, which meets at Tree of Life. Snider just got out of the hospital on Thursday and missed Saturday’s service.

“But you never dream that it would happen like this,” Snider added. “Just never ever dream that it would happen like this.”