PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Eleven people have been killed and a number of others injured after a shooting at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Saturday.
Police sources tell KDKA’s Andy Sheehan the gunman, Robert Bowers, walked into the building and yelled, “All Jews must die.” Sheehan’s sources also confirmed that eleven people have died. No children are among the deceased.
Bowers was reportedly armed with an AR-15 and three handguns.
The initial call to 911 was made around 9:54 a.m. and officers were dispatched to the scene within a minute.
Two officers arrived on the scene and observed a male who was carrying an assault-style weapon, according to police. Bowers opened fire on the two officers and then retreated back into the building. One of the officers suffered a gunshot wound to the hand and the other officer received several cuts to his face from shrapnel and broken glass.
Pittsburgh SWAT officers arrived on scene, formed a small team and entered the building. Upon entering the building officers observed the devestation. SWAT medics carried two victims, one male and one female, outside of the building. The victims were transported to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital for treatment.
Officers began searching the third floor of the synagogue when they encountered Bowers again, who opened fire on the SWAT team. One officer was shot multiple times and critically wounded and another officer was also shot multiple times by Bowers. The remaining SWAT officers engaged Bowers while the two injured officers were carried outside to Pittsburgh Paramedics.
Bowers was injured in the exchange of gunfire. After being taken into custody, the suspect made statements to an officer that he wanted all Jews to die and also that Jews were committing genocide on his people, according to authorities.
It is believed that Bowers acted alone.
“I will emphasize at this time that there appears to be no active threat to the community. We believe the subject that is responsible for this has been taken into custody,” Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said.
Hissrich said at least six other people were injured, including several police officers. Two of the officers were among the first responders to the scene. At least one other was a member of the SWAT team.
As of 5:30 p.m., three victims — a 61-year-old woman, a 55-year-old man, and a 27-year-old male officer — were in stable condition. Two victims — a 70-year-old man and a 40-year-old male SWAT officer — were in critical condition. One additional officer was treated and released.
UPDATE AS OF 3:15 PM ON SATURDAY, OCT. 27, 2018: According to @PGHPublicSafety, a 4 pm media briefing will be held at Allegheny County Emergency Operations, 400 N. Lexington St., Pittsburgh, PA 15208.
UPDATE AS OF 5:30 PM ON SATURDAY, OCT. 27, 2018: A 61-year-old female is in stable condition. A 70-year-old male is in critical condition. A 55-year-old male officer is in stable condition. More . pic.twitter.com/KfHfqb2Dut
Another person was taken to Allegheny General Hospital. According to multiple sources, that person is the suspect in the shooting. The suspect was reportedly shot multiple times and was last listed in fair condition.
The shooting happened during weekly Shabbat services at the synagogue. The building was full of people for a Saturday service and police said they received several calls from people barricaded inside.
A heavy police presence blocked off a section of McAnulty Road in Baldwin Borough. It is believed Bowers lived in an apartment in that area. Police were in the process of obtaining a search warrant for the residence.
Police are also investigating if Bowers announced his intentions on social media Saturday morning. That account has since been taken down.
One posting stated, “HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in that kill out people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Hissrich said this shooting is being investigated as a hate crime and as such, the FBI is leading the investigation.
“At this time this is being considered a federal violation and the primary investigative agency will be the Federal Bureau of investigation,” Hissrich said.
“As the mayor mentioned, we’ve had a tragedy here today. The work of the first responders is what probably prevented it from becoming much more of a tragedy for what it is,” Hissrich said.
District attorney spokesman Mike Manko issued the following statement:
“Senior prosecutors and detectives from our office have been monitoring this atrocity since the first reports. A deputy district attorney is on site and is coordinating the prosecution of this individual under state laws involving murder and federal laws involving domestic terrorism.
District Attorney Zappala has been in touch with United States Attorney Scott Brady and as this progresses, they will work together to determine the appropriate forum in which to address these crimes.
As we always do, we want to allow the families and survivors of this heinous and abhorrent act, and the Jewish Community of Pittsburgh, the time they need to grieve their loss.
During this time, the investigation, led by the FBI, will continue and as we did following the murders committed by Richard Baumhammers, we will have a process evaluating the safety and potential vulnerabilities of synagogues, churches and schools. To that end, we have already reached out to leaders of the Jewish community as well as other leaders in the religious and educational community.”
Federal charges were filed Saturday evening. Those charges include:
Eleven counts each of Obstruction of Exercise of Religious Beliefs Resulting in Death and Use of a Firearm to Commit Murder During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence, four counts of Obstruction of Exercise of Religious Beliefs Resulting in Bodily Injury to a Public Safety Officer and three counts of Use and Discharge of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the charges filed could lead to the death penalty.
A phone number has been established for any questions from family members of the victims. That number is (412)-432-4400.
A victims’ assistance and reunification center has also been set up on the campus of Chatham University. Grief counselors and representatives from the Red Cross will be on hand.
Thousands filled the streets of Squirrel Hill for a vigil Saturday evening.
“That’s what makes Squirrel Hill such a great neighborhood. It’s probably one of the most diverse in not only the city, but across the state. This hits home to everyone. We saw people from different religions, ethnicities, they’re all gathering doing vigils,” Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor said.
A GoFundMe page has also been set up to benefit the victims, their families and the synagogue. If you would like to donate, click here.
Meanwhile, KDKA-TV spoke with several people familiar with what services would have been taking place on a normal Saturday morning.
“At 9:45 there were three simultaneous congregations’ services that were being held,” he said. “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,” Michael Eisenberg, the past President of the Tree of Life, said.
Chuck Diamond was a rabbi at Tree of Life for seven years.
Diamond said possibly three rabbis would’ve been inside. Rabbi Pearlman from New Light was in the basement. Rabbi Cheryl Kline was in the social hall. Rabbi Meyers, the rabbi of Tree of Life, would have been in the chapel.
“I was at home [when I found out]. I live right up the street around the corner and I started getting phone calls,” Diamond said.
Meghan Schiller: Did you ever as rabbi think that you were gonna have to deal with this?
Diamond: “I thought about it all the time, I have to tell you. When I was there, in the back of my mind, I always have the
thought of something like this happening and what I would do, unfortunately, because of the world we live in.”
Schiller: “What comes to mind when you hear that President Donald Trump just tweeted about this?”
Diamond: “Well again, this is unfortunately it happens too often in this country and around the world that these things happen, so it affects us all, so I’m glad that he tweeted something and hopefully he’ll take positive action.”
President Donald Trump called the shooting a “terrible thing” and said “it’s a shame to watch.”
“It’s a terrible terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, and frankly all over the world and something has be done,” Trump said. “It’s just a shame to watch this and to see it for so many years, so much of it, it’s a shame.”
Earlier, Trump tweeted his thoughts to the Pittsburgh area amid the tragedy.
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.
Trump was asked about revisiting gun laws and said if those inside had protection, “maybe it could have been a much different situation.”
“This has little to do with it. If they had protection inside the results would have been far better. This is a dispute that will always exist I suspect. But if they had some kind of protection inside the temple, maybe it could have been a much different situation. But they didn’t and he was able to do things that unfortunately he shouldn’t have been able to do,” Trump said.
Vice President Mike Pence said today’s shooting wasn’t just a criminal act, it was evil.
“What happened in Pittsburgh today was not just criminal, it was evil. An attack on innocent Americans and an assault on our freedom of religion. There is no place in America for violence or anti-Semitism and this evil must end,” Pence said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered all commonwealth flags on the Capitol Complex, at commonwealth facilities, and throughout the state lowered to half-staff, effective immediately, in honor of all victims of the attack.
He also issued the following statement regarding the incident:
“The shooting in Pittsburgh this morning is an absolute tragedy. I have spoken with local leaders and my administration and the Pennsylvania State Police will provide any resources to assist local law enforcement and first responders.
“These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans. My thoughts right now are focused on the victims, their families and making sure law enforcement has every resource they need.
“We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life. But we have been saying ‘this one is too many’ for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way.
“And in the aftermath of this tragedy, we must come together and take action to prevent these tragedies in the future. We cannot accept this violence as normal.”
Two of Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams, the Steelers and Penguins, also Tweeted their thoughts and prayers to the victims.