11 killed, 6 injured in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting; suspect identified

Posted at 10:17 AM, Oct 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-27 17:18:50-04

PITTSBURGH (RNN) - Eleven people are dead and multiple people were injured after a gunman opened fire during a baby naming ceremony inside a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh Saturday.

Police Chief Scott Schubert said six other people were injured in the gunfire, including four police officers. Two of the officers were shot in the initial confrontation with the gunman and two SWAT officers were wounded in a later confrontation.

A bearded, heavy-set white man is in custody. The suspect was identified as Robert Bowers, 46, of Pittsburgh, according to local media.

Authorities believe he was shot by police but the Federal Bureau of Investigations will determine that. He was taken to the hospital.

The FBI is investigating the shooting as a hate crime.

“Certainly, the actions this individual took today were hateful,” FBI Agent Bob Jones said.

Jones said investigators found an assault rifle and confirmed the suspect had three handguns on his person.

Jones said the suspect went back into the synagogue to hid from SWAT officers after exiting the place of worship.

Schubert said watching his officers run into danger was “amazing.”

“By the time I got there, they were already starting to extract people,” he said, commending their courage.

Wendell Hissrich, the Allegheny Director of Public Safety, said there is no evidence of a further threat to the community.

“It’s a very horrific crime scene,” he said almost in tears.

The suspect’s motive remains unknown but he reportedly made anti-Semitic remarks as he was taken into custody. He is believed to have acted alone.

The Tree of Life Congregation is a conservative Jewish congregation, but that is in no way a reflection of political beliefs. Judaism recognizes several denominations including Conservatism, Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist.

Three congregations practice in the Tree of Life building - Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash. All three congregations were holding services Saturday morning.

“If they had some kind of protection inside the temple, maybe it would have been different," said President Donald Trump, who also praised the response of law enforcement at the scene.

“When people do this, they should get the death penalty. They shouldn’t have to wait years and years. Of course the lawyers will get involved ... anyone who does this to innocent people who are in temple or church, they should really suffer the ultimate price. I’ve felt that way for a long time. Some people disagree with me, but I can’t imagine why," he said.

Trump wouldn’t comment on changing gun laws.

Trump weighed in on the incident again soon after arriving to a rally in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil, hard to believe and frankly something that is unimaginable. Our nation and the world is shocked and stunned by the grief,” Trump said.

Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the synagogue, told local media that they never had any threats, but they were concerned about security and called in Homeland Security to examine their building.

“We were working with the other synagogues if something horrific like this happened,” he told KDKA.

“But our security is no one has ever tried. Like most religious communities, we have an open door,” Eisenberg said.

Police are currently checking the building for any potential explosives the gunman left behind, and the Mass Causality Command Center is on scene.

Shabbat morning services were scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Saturday, according to the synagogue’s website. The calls came into 911 about 10:20 a.m.

Witnesses tell the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the gunfire sounded like an automatic weapon.

Jeff Finkelstein, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh said he guessed there would be at least 50 people at the church on a Saturday morning.

“My heart goes out to all these families,” he said. “This should not be happening period.”

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