Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: suspect held after at least four killed

Martin Pengelly, Lois Beckett and Mike Elk — The Guardian Oct 27, 2018

Outside the Tree of Life synagoue in Pittsburgh. Click to enlarge

Outside the Tree of Life synagoue in Pittsburgh. Click to enlarge

At least four people and as many as eight were dead after a man began shooting at a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Bill Peduto, mayor of Pittsburgh, told reporters four people were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue. Local media reported the toll at eight. Police officials told media the gunman was in custody and three officers had been shot but did not confirm officially the number of fatalities. The gunman was taken to Mercy hospital in the city.

The local CBS affiliate KDKA reported that people barricaded inside the synagogue had made calls out, adding that people had also been wounded.

A KDKA reporter described “an exchange of gunfire between the police and suspect on the third floor” and “two officers shot in that exchange of gunfire”. The gunman was injured and surrendered after negotiation, the station said.

The station reported that the suspect was “white male [with] a beard” and said he “walked in yelling ‘All Jews must die’”. The station later named the suspect as Robert Bowers.

Jeff Finkelstein, chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, told reporters the Tree of Life was a Conservative synagogue and said a little more than half of the Jewish community in the greater Pittsburgh area lived in and around the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

The shooting was reported to have happened shortly after 10 am. Michael Eisenberg, a past president of the synagogue, told media there would have been three simultaneous services going on in the main building, with 30 to 40 people in two larger services and about 15 in a smaller one.

One of the services was a bris, a circumcision ceremony involving a child.

“We’ve never had any threats,” Eisenberg said, adding that the synagogue had consulted with the Department of Homeland Security and other synagogues about safety precautions, including making doors easier to open from the inside so people could escape.

At Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Donald Trump expressed sympathy for the victims. Asked if gun laws needed to be changed to prevent such shootings, the president said: “If they had protection inside the results would have been far better. If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple, maybe it would have been a much different situation.”

Speaking at the scene of the shooting remained the subject of an active police effort and confirmed facts remained scarce, Trump also said people who carried out mass shootings were “wackos” and said he thought the death penalty should be applied in such cases.

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf travelled to the scene of the shooting. In a statement, he said it was “an absolute tragedy”.

“These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans,” he said, adding: “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.”

At the scene, a light rain fell as police officers cordoned off the area.

“I don’t really have words to describe it,” said one local resident, a graduate student from Germany who lives down the street from the synagogue and did not wish to be named. “I’m not from the US and this is the second time I’ve been near the scene of a mass shooting.”

The student said she previously lived near the scene of the 2014 Isla Vista shooting in California, in which six people were killed.