Home News Update: at least 8 killed, 4 officers shot at Pittsburgh synagogue

Update: at least 8 killed, 4 officers shot at Pittsburgh synagogue

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Jessica Schladebeck , Michael Gartland And Larry Mcshane
New York Daily News

A lone shooter spewing anti-Semitic venom opened fire Saturday morning in a Pittsburgh synagogue, with reports of eight dead in the massacre before the assailant surrendered.

“All Jews must die!” the gunman shouted before opening fire on dozens of congregants inside the Tree of Life synagogue, according to KDKA-TV.

A clearly-shaken Wendell Hissrich, Pittsburgh Public Safety director, said two of the six people wounded in the brutal attack were fighting for their lives in critical condition. The other four, all Pittsburgh police officers, suffered non-life threatening injuries, he said.

“It’s a very horrific crime scene,” said the emotional Hissrich. “It’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been (out) on some plane crashes. It’s very bad.”

Hissrich declined to put a number on the fatalities at the house of worship in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. KDKA-TV reported there were eight people killed after the shooter entered the synagogue shortly before 10 a.m.

The wounded and crawling suspect, identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers, surrendered after a gunfight with cops who were forced to crouch behind their police cars for protection during a wild shootout, the television station reported.

“My stomach is churning,” said lawyer Jeffrey Pollock, 56, who lives four doors down from the fortress-like concrete synagogue. “I went to get my mail … and saw about a dozen police cars with their lights on.”

He said there was a weekly Shabbat service Saturday on the synagogue’s main floor and a bris scheduled for the basement. The mother of one girl attending the services told CNN that worshippers fled to the basement for sanctuary as the gunshots continued one floor above.

The synagogue’s former rabbi Chuck Diamond said he spoke with a regular attendee of the weekly service who escaped death after hitting traffic on his way to the synagogue in the Steel City’s Jewish enclave. By the time the man and his son arrived, police were already on the scene and the synagogue was under attack.

Diamond noted that many of the Saturday attendees were elderly, long-time members of the synagogue.

“I cried — I heard about it, and thought about the people who I knew would be there,” said Diamond, who still lives in the neighborhood where he grew up. “It was terrifying to me … I’m just torn apart.”

Diamond, who left the congregation two years ago, said the synagogue doors were typically unlocked during the Shabbat services.

Jeff Finklestein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, estimated the service held as many as 60 worshippers on a typical Saturday.

“I’m just sad,” said Finkelstein. “I really don’t know what to tell you. My heart goes out to all these families. This should not be happening, period. This should not be happening in a synagogue.”

Sabbath services at the “traditional, progressive and egalitarian” synagogue were scheduled to begin at 9:45 a.m. Cops quickly flooded the chaotic area around the house of worship, with ambulances soon lined up on the surrounding streets.

President Trump, asked by reporters about the hate-fueled carnage, called for a return to the death penalty and suggested an armed guard was the answer to such attacks.

“If they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately,” said Trump. “Maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him, frankly. So it’s a very difficult situation … Isn’t it a shame you even have to think of that, inside a temple, inside a church?”

Trump — who called the shooter “a mad man, a whacko” — said the toll from the shooting was “far more devastating” than initial reports had indicated.

The NYPD quickly began deploying heavy weapons teams, including the officers from the Critical Response Command and the Strategic Response Team, to houses of worship across the city. Sector cars will also make additional visits to the religious outlets.

The killings came after a year where the Anti-Defamation League reported a record 57% uptick in anti-Semitic incidents nationwide.

“There’s a lot of anti-Semitism out there, a lot of hate out there,” said rabbi Diamond. “It’s in the newspapers every day. It’s a terrible time.”

With Thomas Tracy

Shootings

Homicide

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©2018 New York Daily News

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