PITTSBURGH — Eleven people were killed and at least six were injured in a shooting on Saturday at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, according to CBS Pittsburgh.
The gunman is said to have yelled “All Jews must die” as he entered the Tree of Life Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in the city and began firing during a brit milah (circumcision) ceremony, local media reported. He engaged in a shootout with responding police officers and barricaded himself inside the building before surrendering. He is said to have been injured, and reportedly crawled toward police.
He was armed with a rifle and two handguns, according to reports.
KDKA-TV, a local news station, said its sources identified the suspect as Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old white male. A law enforcement official later confirmed the suspect’s identity to the Associated Press, but could not elaborate further.
— Thomas D Bradley (@ThomasDBradley) October 27, 2018
Bowers is said to have written anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant conspiracies on Gab, an alt-right social network similar to Twitter. His last reported message, hours before the shooting Saturday, read: “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, formerly Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is an American-Jewish nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid to refugees and immigrants.
Being very clear for media picking this up, this man Robert Bowers was named on police scanner, found his profile, last post was this and his social media account was wiped while I was archiving it. His account was anti-Semitic conspiracies and anti-Trump posts/conspiracies. pic.twitter.com/uRNfWAEWLW
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) October 27, 2018
Another post from Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter Robert Bowers. His profile clearly illustrates that he’s a Nazi, admired Hitler, hates Trump, believes Trump is controlled by Jews, he did not vote for Trump. That’s all I was able to archive before his profile was wiped. Sickening. pic.twitter.com/DPQfGuWDzY
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) October 27, 2018
Bowers’s Gab bio read: “Jews are the children of Satan.” The profile has since been taken down.
— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) October 27, 2018
“There are no words to express how devastated we are by the events in Pittsburgh this morning,” HIAS said in a statement Saturday. “This loss is our loss, and our thoughts are with Tree of Life Congregation, our local partner Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) of Pittsburgh, the city of Pittsburgh and all those affected by this senseless act of violence.”
At least six people were injured in the shooting, among them four police officers, according to authorities.
“It is a very horrific crime scene. It was one of the worst that I’ve seen. It is very bad,” Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director, told The Times of Israel.
Helicopters circled the scene, police vans blocked every street, and heavily-armed Pittsburgh SWAT teams checked and re-checked weapons at the site, several hours after the incident.
The synagogue is located at the corner of Wilkins and Shady Avenues in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh.
Squirrel Hill has long been the center of Jewish life in Pittsburgh and has one of the most densely-populated Jewish communities in America. The Conservative Tree of Life is about 150 years old.
Synagogues hold weekly religious services for congregants and visitors on Saturdays, the Sabbath, and service was in session at the time of the shooting at approximately 10:00 am local time. Congregants were hosting a brit milah (circumcision) ceremony.
Michael Eisenberg, a former president of the Tree of Life Synagogue, told KDKA that there were approximately 50 people inside the synagogue.
“At 9:45 there were three simultaneous congregations’ services that were being held,” he told the news station. “In the main part of the building, The Tree of Life has a service that has about 40 people in it. Just below that there is a basement area where New Life congregation would have been having their Shabbat service. There would have been 30-40 people. Just adjacent to Tree of Light’s service area, a congregation was in the rabbi study room and they would have had approximately 15 people in there.”
CBS Pittsburgh reported that police received several calls from people inside the synagogue as the shooting unfolded.
Police officers, SWAT teams, firefighters, and ambulance services responded to the attack.
“There is an active shooter in the area of Wilkins and Shady. Avoid the area,” the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department wrote in a tweet Saturday as the shooting began.
Jeff Finkelstein of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh told WPXI that the organization’s security officer has notified all JCC synagogues and that they are on modified lockdown.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called the shooting an “absolute tragedy.”
“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.”
US President Donald Trump tweeted that the attack was “far more devastating than originally thought.”
Events in Pittsburgh 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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2018
He also spoke to reporters later Saturday at Andrews Air Force Base before traveling to Indianapolis, saying the violence “has to stop.”
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.
He also said such shooters should receive the death penalty and “suffer the ultimate price.”
Trump says the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting has "little" to do with gun laws: "If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better." (via CBS) pic.twitter.com/2z9JGCZXvb
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 27, 2018
Erez Rimoni, an Israeli in town on business, was visibly shaken as he waited at the police perimeter on Shady Avenue.
“I have a friend in this synagogue,” Rimoni told the Times of Israel. “I don’t know what’s happened to my friend.”
“It’s crazy,” said Arnold Freedman, a Pittsburgh resident who lives a few houses away, and attends Tree of Life, though not Saturday morning. “We have a crazy world now.”
Glenn Harlow said he helps provide security “for every synagogue in town,” and is a member of Tree of Life.
“At Shabbos [Saturday], a guy just walks in… it’s very ugly over there,” Harlow told the Times of Israel. “No, the gun laws don’t help stop them. You have to harden the perimeter. You have to monitor who comes and goes. You have to have a human presence.”
“The security they had was not designed for this,” Harlow added. “It was designed for intrusion, vandalism, fire. There are buttons throughout to summon the authorities.”
Ann Greathouse was attending the Shaare Torah Orthodox synagogue nearby when the shooting happened.
“We went into the implementation of the UJF’s [United Jewish Federation’s security] plan,” Greathouse told The Times of Israel. “All the doors and windows were locked, and a team was watching the security cameras.”
“The president [Trump] talks about people being armed,” security expert Harlow told The Times of Israel. “That doesn’t stop anything. The guy just walked in. The door is open.”
It is not yet clear what security measures the synagogue had in place.
Agencies contributed to this report. Reporter Mike Machovsky also works with the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation.