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News

Monday 29th October 2018

Categories:
All faiths, Integration, Mutuality, Pluralism, Respect, United

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: suspected gunman charged with murder

Robert Bowers (46) was arrested after 11 people were killed and six injured

Audio released by police captures the tense moments as law enforcement responded to a gunman who stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people. 

The man suspected of shooting dead 11 worshippers and wounded six others at a Pittsburgh synagogue during Saturday services has been charged with murder.

Robert Bowers (46) of Pittsburgh was taken into custody after a shootout with a SWAT team that saw four police officers injured.

Federal prosecutors charged him with 29 criminal counts including 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder, weapons offences and charges alleging Bowers seriously injured police officers while obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs.

The names of those shot dead by the gunman, who reportedly yelled “All Jews must die”, will be released on Sunday, officials said.

Shortly after reports of the shooting emerged, President Donald Trump said in a tweet he was watching what he described as a “devastating” situation.

Mr Trump told reporters later that the killings might have been prevented if there had been an armed guard in the building.

“If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple maybe it could have been a much more different situation, they didn’t,” he said when asked if there was any link to US gun laws.

He also called the shooting a wicked act of pure evil, called on Americans to rise above hate, and ordered US flags at the White House and public buildings to be flown at half–staff. He said he would visit Pittsburgh, but did not say when. 

The Tree of Life synagogue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighbourhood, a heavily Jewish area, was holding a Shabbat religious service at the time of the shooting.

Police are normally only present at the synagogue for security on high holidays, Michael Eisenberg, former president of the synagogue, told KDKA.

“On a day like today, the door is open, it’s a religious service, you can walk in and out,” he said.

Around the time, three congregations amounting to about 100 people would have been using the building, Mr Eisenberg said.

FBI special agent Bob Jones said the crime scene was the worst he had seen in 22 years with the FBI. He said he believed Bowers was acting alone, adding: “We have no knowledge that he was known to law enforcement before today.”

Bowers had made many anti–Semitic posts online, including one early on Saturday. In another, he slammed Mr Trump for doing nothing to stop an “infestation” of the United States by Jews.

Mr Jones said Bowers was armed with an assault rifle and three handguns. He said authorities believed the suspect entered the synagogue, murdered the worshippers and was leaving when he encountered a uniformed police officer. The pair exchanged gunfire, Mr Jones said, and Bowers reentered the building before a SWAT team arrived. After a shootout, he surrendered.

Bowers was taken to a hospital where he was listed in fair condition with multiple gunshot wounds.

A social media post by Bowers on Saturday morning said a Jewish refugee organisation, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The mass shooting follows a spate of pipe bombs found mailed in recent days to prominent political figures, mostly Democrats including former President Barack Obama.

In the city on Saturday night, mourners held a candlelit vigil for the victims under light rain. The Islamic Center Of Pittsburgh offered its deepest sympathy and condolences, and called on its community to donate blood.

The Anti–Defamation League and Jewish Council for Public Affairs described the Pittsburgh shooting as the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.

On April 13, 2014, a pair of shootings occurred at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish retirement community, both located in Overland Park, Kansas. A total of three people were killed in the shootings.

In 2015, a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans during a prayer service in Charleston, South Carolina.

In 2012, a neo–Nazi gunman with white supremacist ties walked into a Sikh gurdwara – or house of worship – in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and murdered six Sikh Americans. – Reuters