Police respond to an active shooter situation at the Tree of Life synagogue on Wildins Avenue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa., on Saturday, October 27, 2018. (Pam Panchak/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Police respond to an active shooter situation at the Tree of Life synagogue on Wildins Avenue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa., on Saturday, October 27, 2018. (Pam Panchak/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

An open door and a massacre: Gunman kills 11 at synagogue

Robert Bowers walked inside the Pittsburgh synagogue during Saturday morning worship

During the week, anyone who wanted to get inside Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue had to ring the doorbell and be granted entry by staff because the front door was kept locked. Not so on Saturday — the Jewish Sabbath — when the building was open for worship.

A gunman who had expressed hatred of Jews exploited that vulnerability, so common in so many houses of worship across the country, in a singularly horrific way.

Armed with a rifle and three handguns, Robert Bowers walked inside the synagogue during Saturday morning worship and began shooting, killing 11 and wounding six before police took him into custody, officials said. It was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, according to the leader of the Anti-Defamation League.

Bowers traded gunfire with police and was shot multiple times but survived. He was charged late Saturday with 29 federal counts, including weapons offences and hate crimes. Law enforcement officials planned to discuss the massacre at a news conference Sunday morning.

Four police officers were among the wounded.

The nation’s latest mass shooting drew condemnation and expressions of sympathy from politicians and religious leaders of all stripes. With the midterm election just over a week away, it also reignited a longstanding and bitter debate over guns. President Donald Trump said the outcome might have been different if the synagogue “had some kind of protection” from an armed guard, while Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, up for re-election, noted that once again “dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way.”

Calling the shooting an “evil anti-Semitic attack,” Trump ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the U.S. to be flown at half-staff in respect for the victims. He said he planned to travel to Pittsburgh, but offered no details.

In the city, thousands gathered for a vigil Saturday night. Some blamed the slaughter on the nation’s political climate.

“When you spew hate speech, people act on it. Very simple. And this is the result. A lot of people dead. Senselessly,” said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light Congregation, which rents space at Tree of Life.

The shooting raised immediate alarm in Jewish communities around the country. Authorities in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and other cities sent extra patrols to synagogues and other houses of worship.

Little was known about Bowers, who had no apparent criminal record but who is believed to have expressed virulently anti-Semitic views on social media. Authorities said it appears he acted alone.

Worshippers “were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith,” said Bob Jones, head of the FBI’s Pittsburgh office, though he cautioned the shooter’s full motive was not yet known.

Scott Brady, the chief federal prosecutor in western Pennsylvania, pledged that “justice in this case will be swift and it will be severe.”

It wasn’t clear if Bowers had an attorney to speak on his behalf.

The gunman targeted a building that housed three separate congregations, all of which were conducting Sabbath services when the attack began just before 10 a.m. in the tree-lined residential neighbourhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and the hub of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.

The synagogue door was unlocked on the Sabbath “because people are coming for services, and the bell would be ringing constantly. So they do not lock the door, and anybody can just walk in,” said Marilyn Honigsberg, administrative assistant for New Light. “And that’s what this man did.”

Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the Tree of Life, said synagogue officials had not gotten any threats that he knew of before the shooting. But he said security was a concern, and the synagogue had started working to improve it.

“You know, you’re always worried that something would happen,” said Myron Snider, head of the cemetery committee for New Light. Snider just got out of the hospital on Thursday and missed Saturday’s service.

“But you never dream that it would happen like this,” Snider added. “Just never ever dream that it would happen like this.”

Zachary Weiss, 26, said his father, 60-year-old Stephen Weiss, was inside the synagogue but was unharmed. Weiss said his father told him that he and Tree of Life’s rabbi helped congregants take shelter and follow the active shooter response training they’d received months earlier. Stephen Weiss made it out of the building and used a janitor’s cellphone to call his family at home.

The attack, his son vowed, “will not define our congregation and will not define our city.”

___

Breed reported from Raleigh, North Carolina, and Lauer reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press writers Mark Gillispie and Gene Puskar in Pittsburgh, Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo in Washington, Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Michael Kunzelman in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania contributed to this report.

___

Mark Scolforo, Allen G. Breed And Claudia Lauer, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Ucluelet local Geoff Johnson snapped this photo of a Risso’s dolphin that washed up near Chesterman Beach in Tofino on Wednesday, Jan. 13. (Geoff Johnson photo)
Washed up Risso’s dolphin offers glimpse into “whole other world” near Tofino

“It’s like a UFO crash landed and you can come look at it”

This weekend Amy Pye is holding a virtual book launch for her latest children’s book, <em>Bruce the Silly Goose</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Nanaimo writer and illustrator pens children’s book about COVID-19 safety

Amy Pye to hold online book launch for ‘Bruce the Silly Goose’

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
Vancouver Island minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

3L Developments has stated it is pulling the plug on its plans to build a residential neighbourhood in the Stotan Falls area. The company has repeatedly offered to turn the Stotan Falls area into parkland, if the CVRD were to amend its Regional Growth Strategy to allow for a residential community to be built in the area. The CVRD has steadfastly turned down the development company. File photo.
Plugged pulled on decade-old Comox Valley development project

3L Developments say there will be no further development applications filed for Stotan Falls

The profitability of Victoria International Airport dropped by almost $17 million in 2020 because of COVID-19. (Black Press Media File)
Victoria International Airport revenues in a tailspin

While airport made $9.2 million in profits 2019, COVID-19 brought estimated losses of $7.5 million

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

Jackie Hildering, whale researcher with the Marine Education and Research Society, and Nanaimo Area Land Trust will present the Return of Giants, a webinar about the humpback whales’ return from the brink of extinction and how boaters can help protect them. (Jackie Hildering/MERS photo taken under Marine Mammal License MML-42)
‘Return of the Giants:’ B.C. getting a second chance to coexist with humpback whales

‘Marine Detective’ partners with Nanaimo stewardship group on webinar

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

The Gardens at Qualicum Beach is now owned by family-owned The Care Group. (thegardensatqualicum.com)
The Gardens at Qualicum Beach has new owners

Family has travelled to Qualicum Beach for more than a century

Most Read