The gunman who killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday will face federal charges that carry the death penalty, the US Justice Department said.
“Hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.
“These alleged crimes are reprehensible and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation. Accordingly, the Department of Justice will file hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant, including charges that could lead to the death penalty.”
The suspect, identified by police as Pittsburgh resident Robert Bowers, 46, has been taken into police custody.
Bowers is said to have yelled “All Jews must die” as he entered the Conservative Tree of Life synagogue in the city and began firing during a brit milah (circumcision) ceremony. 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.
Bowers continued to say that “Jews need to die,” as he surrendered, according to police audio aired by CNN.
“He is continuing to say he doesn’t wan’t any Jews alive,” one officer can be heard reporting on the audio, as the suspect crawled toward police.
Bob Jones, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Pittsburgh, says investigators believe Robert Bowers was acting alone.
He says Bowers’ full motive still isn’t known.
Jones said the scene of Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation was “the most horrific crime scene I have seen” in 22 years with the FBI.
US President Donald Trump dubbed the attack “a wicked act of mass murder,” hitting out at climate of “hate” in America and beyond — while his daughter Ivanka, a convert to Judaism, denounced a “depraved” attack.
“There must be no tolerance for anti-Semitism,” Trump told a rally in Indianapolis.
“This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil, hard to believe,” he said. “Our minds cannot comprehend the cruel hate and the twisted malice that could cause a person to unleash such terrible violence during a baby naming ceremony.”
Wendell Hissrich, Pittsburgh’s public safety director, told a news conference that 11 people were killed, and six people injured — not including the gunman. No children were among the casualties.
Hissrich earlier described the scene of the shooting as “horrific.”
“One of the worst that I’ve seen, I’ve been on plane crashes. It’s very bad,” he said.
Stephen Weiss, a member of the congregation who was inside the building, told the Tribune-Review newspaper he heard dozens of shots coming from the front lobby.
“We had services going on in the chapel when we heard a loud noise in the lobby area,” he said. “I recognized it as gunshots.”
Weiss’s son told CNN his father has escaped and was physically fine but shaken up.
The gunman appeared to be the author of a rash of anti-Semitic online posts, notably on the Gab.com website, where conspiracy theories — like a discredited report linking Hillary Clinton to pedophiles — are common.
A person identified as Bowers posted on Gab just hours before the shooting: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people” — a reference to a refugee resettlement group. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”