PITTSBURGH (AP) — Nearly two weeks after a gunman shot to death 11 people inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, their lives were remembered Friday with a moment of silence and rally for peace in a downtown park.
Rabbis from all three congregations whose members were meeting in the Tree of Life synagogue building at the time of the October 27 shooting were among a few hundred people who attended the event at Point State Park.
“I want to thank Pittsburgh’s finest,” said Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, flanked by first responders. “If it wasn’t for Pittsburgh’s finest, I wouldn’t be standing here, addressing you today.”
Myers, who pledged Friday never again to utter the word “hate,” survived what was the deadliest attack on Jews in US history, then handled funerals for his congregants.
Actor Michael Keaton, wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates ball cap, emceed the event that was described as “a gathering of compassion, unity and love.” Keaton grew up in the area.
“This one really hurts. When it happens at a place of worship, that pain runs really, really deep,” Keaton said, calling Pittsburgh “a tough, tough city.”
Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old truck driver, is accused of the shooting rampage. On October 27, Bowers is alleged to have entered the Tree of Life synagogue with an AR-15 and several handguns and opened fire on a Shabbat service. He killed 11 congregants and injured four police officers, authorities said.
Authorities said he raged about Jews during and after the attack.
Federal prosecutors have charged Bowers with 44 felony counts, including using a firearm to commit murder and other hate crimes, such as obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer.
He had pleaded not guilty to federal charges.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto reminded the crowd Friday that the rally was taking place on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Nazi Germany’s systematic assault on Jews and their institutions.
The mayor also remembered the victims of recent shootings at a supermarket in Louisville, Kentucky, a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, and a bar on Wednesday in Thousand Oaks, California.
The shooting was “our moment of broken glass,” said Rev. Liddy Barlow, executive director of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania: “But this time, neighbors did not stand aside. First responders did not stand aside. Christians did not and will not stand aside.”
Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks took the stage with Joanne Rogers, widow of Fred Rogers, host of the PBS children’s television series, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
“A visitor will know how great a city this is because Pittsburgh has been tested,” said Hanks, who plays Fred Rogers in an upcoming film.
He said the city has shown the rest of the nation and the world “what good comes when the people of the Allegheny and the Monongahela love their neighbors with no exception.”
Tom Murrin said he drove down to the rally from the town of Mars, in neighboring Butler County, to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community.
“I think there is something to be pulled out of a tragedy. Standing against [hatred] is good to see,” he said. “I don’t think you ever recover from something like this, but maybe we can lead in that way, in trying to make a difference.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called the shooting “an attack on humanity.”
“We have a lot of work to do to combat hate, whether it’s on the Internet or in the shadows,” Wolf told the crowd. “Our diversity is our strength. Spread love, be kind, take care of each other.”
“I know how tight-knit this community is,” said US Rep. Conor Lamb, as he was leaving the rally. “We showed the nation exactly who we are. We are going to show the country a model on how to recover.”
The killer in Pittsburgh reviled US President Donald Trump as too close to Jews but embraced the president’s dire warning that a convoy of migrants trekking through Mexico was set to “invade” the United States. Immediately before the shooting, the shooter railed against HIAS, the Jewish agency that advocates for immigrants.
The day before the killings, a Trump enthusiast was arrested on suspicion that he sent at least 15 pipe bombs to liberals, Democrats and CNN, all of whom were specific targets of Trump’s verbal and social media attacks.
TOI staff and JTA contributed to this event.