Saturday’s synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States, the Anti-Defamation League, an organization focused on combating anti-Semitism, said Saturday.
Eleven people were killed and at least six were injured in the massacre, according to CBS Pittsburgh.
“We believe this is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States,” the ADL said in a statement.
“It is simply unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning, and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age,” the ADL’s head Jonathan A. Greenblatt said earlier.
The gunman, identified as Robert Bowers, 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 baby naming 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.
“Unfortunately, this violent attack — the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the United States since 2014 — occurs at time when ADL has reported a historic increase in both anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Semitic online harassment,” Greenblatt said, appearing to refer to a Kansas City attack that left three dead.
Jewish groups in the US condemned the deadly attack and extended their condolences to the victims of the shootings and their families.
“Attacking innocent civilians in their place of worship, when they are congregating to practice their faith, is a cowardly and dreadful crime of hate,” the American Jewish Congress said in a statement. “During these terrible times, we stand even stronger against Anti-Semitism, white supremacy and intimidation. Our hearts go out to the people that were hurt and their families and loved ones, and we mourn the loss of multiple members of our community.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center urged President Donald Trump to “convene an emergency meeting of religious leaders to help stop the slide to extremism in American Society.” Americans, it said, need and want leadership from the from both sides of the political aisle to stop the continuous slide to the brink. The president should also immediately convene a cross section of faith leaders to help turn the tide against hate and extremism.”
JCC Association of North America president and CEO Doron Krakow expressed his sorrow and solidarity with the Pittsburgh congregation, saying in a statement: “Our hearts are with the Tree of Life Synagogue, the three congregations co-located within the facility, and the entire Pittsburgh Jewish community on what has been a horrific day, as we mourn this tragedy and face an increasingly violent epidemic of anti-Semitism.”
Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, said that her organization was “overcome with grief and heartbreak at the unconscionable act of terror during morning prayers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. He added that “this is a moment when we are all called — Jews and allies — to gather together in community, to mourn, to hold each other, to share our sadness and our outrage. Tonight at vigils across the country, Jewish communities and allies will light the Havdallah candles that mark the end of Shabbat.”
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance and a rabbi in the Conservative movement, condemned the shooting as well as what he characterized as dangerous rhetoric from government officials — including US President Donald Trump — that emboldened white Supremacists and neo-Nazis.
“This is an unspeakable tragedy for this congregation and for the Jewish community,” Moline said. “The solution to ending gun violence and hate crimes should have happened long before the gunman reached the door of the synagogue this morning. Instead, the president and his supporters point the finger of blame at everyone other than the shooter and ignore their own complicity in emboldening people motivated by hate to take violent actions.”
J Street issued a statement calling for responsible leadership following the attack in order to deal with the threat posed by anti-Semitism.
“We must all join together in condemning the rising tide of white nationalism, racism and hatred directed at Jewish people and other vulnerable minorities in our country,” the statement read. “And we must call for an end to the extreme rhetoric, laced with bigotry and racism, that is dominating our national discourse and breeding violence.”
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum condemned the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue as well, stressing that Americans must be more aware of the “dangers of unchecked hatred and antisemitism 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.”
KDKA-TV, a local news station, said its sources identified the suspected shooter as Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old white male. A law enforcement official later confirmed the suspect’s identity to the Associated Press.
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.”
Bowers’ Gab bio read: “Jews are the children of Satan.” The profile has since been taken down.
“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,” said Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director.
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. Tree of Life is a Conservative congregation that 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.