By Campbell Robertson, Sabrina Tavernise and Mihir Zaveri
PITTSBURGH – Authorities on Sunday identified the 11 victims of a shooting rampage at a Pittsburgh synagogue in which a man armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and three handguns shot into a morning worship service in the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in the United States in decades.
The dead included eight men and three women. The oldest victim, Rose Mallinger of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, was 97. Two brothers, David and Cecil Rosenthal, ages 54 and 59, were the youngest. A husband and wife, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, ages 84 and 86, of Wilkinsburg, Pa., were also among the dead.
Mayor Bill Peduto called the attack the “darkest day of Pittsburgh’s history” but vowed that the city would move forward. “We know that we as a society are better than this,” he said. “We know that hatred will never win out, that those that try to divide us because of the way we pray, or where our families are from around the world, will lose.”
Robert Jones, special agent in charge of the FBI in Pittsburgh, said that the synagogue was “the most horrific crime scene” he had seen in 22 years with the agency, and could take up to a week to process.
Authorities said the gunman, identified as Robert Gregory Bowers, 46, appeared to have been acting alone Saturday morning when he stormed into the Tree of Life Congregation, where worshipers had gathered in separate rooms to celebrate their faith, and shot indiscriminately into the crowd.
He was leaving the synagogue when officers, dressed in tactical gear and armed with rifles, met him at the door. According to police, Bowers exchanged gunfire with officers before retreating back inside and barricading himself inside a third-floor room.
When he eventually surrendered to police, he said that he “wanted all Jews to die and also that they (Jews) were committing genocide against his people,” according to the criminal complaint from Pittsburgh police.
In all, 11 people were killed and six others were injured, including two congregants and four police officers.
Bowers remained under guard in the hospital Sunday morning after having surgery, authorities said. He was scheduled to make his first appearance before a federal judge at 1:30 p.m. Monday.
“I see this room a lot of times on TV and I never thought I’d be at this podium,” Jeffrey Finkelstein, chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said at a Sunday morning news conference.
Federal officials charged Bowers with 29 criminal counts. They included obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs – a hate crime – and using a firearm to commit murder, all of which can carry the death penalty. He also faces state charges, including 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.
Authorities said that Bowers had no previous criminal history.
The assault on the synagogue unfolded on a quiet, drizzly morning, in the heart of the city’s vibrant Jewish community, in the leafy Squirrel Hill neighborhood that is home to several synagogues, kosher restaurants and bakeries. Hours afterward, hundreds gathered at three separate interfaith vigils on a cold, rainy evening to mourn the dead and pray for the wounded.
The latest mass shooting came amid a bitter, vitriolic midterm election season, against the backdrop of what appears to be a surge in hate-related speech and crimes across the country. It followed the arrest Friday morning of a man who authorities said sent more than a dozen pipe bombs to critics of President Donald Trump, including several high-profile Democrats.
Bowers did not surrender without a fight. The officers who rushed to the scene came upon him as he was trying to leave the synagogue. He fired at them, injuring one officer in the hand, according to the criminal complaint. Another officer had injuries to his face from shrapnel and broken glass. Bowers then darted back inside and ran up to the third floor.
At that point, a SWAT team went in and came upon the scene of the massacre. Two people were still alive and police carried them out. As they were searching for other victims, SWAT officers encountered Bowers, who fired at them and critically injured two officers.
The remaining officers “engaged the suspect in a gunbattle in which multiple rounds were exchanged,” the criminal complaint said. At some point in the shootout, Bowers was wounded, and he eventually surrendered to police.
Law enforcement agents had searched his residence and were preparing to search his vehicle Sunday morning.
The anguish of Saturday’s massacre heightened a sense of national unease over increasingly hostile political rhetoric. Critics of Trump have argued that he has been stirring a pot of nationalism, on Twitter and at his rallies, charges that Trump has denied.
About Saturday’s attack, Trump, addressing reporters at Joint Base Andrews on Saturday, said, “It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country and frankly all over the world, and something has to be done.”
“The results are very devastating,” he said, adding that if the synagogue “had some kind of protection,” then “it could have been a much different situation.”
Later, speaking to reporters as he got off Air Force One in Illinois, Trump said he planned to visit Pittsburgh but he did not say when.
Leaders in the United States and across the world condemned the attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said that he was “heartbroken and appalled” and that the “the entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead.”
The attack was at least the third mass shooting in a house of worship in three years. In November, a gunman killed 26 worshipers at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and in 2015, a white supremacist killed nine congregants in a church in Charleston, S.C.
Witnesses said the attack unfolded without warning.
Jim Waite had just gotten out of the shower and turned on the television in his bedroom when he heard five loud pops and a crash.
Waite, 55, lives at the corner of Wilkins Avenue and Woodland Road, just across the street from the synagogue.
When he heard the noises, Waite knew something was wrong: Maybe a car crash, he thought, and he walked outside.
At that point, a police car came screeching by, and Waite saw another police officer, with his weapon drawn.
Then he heard the sounds of chaos: eight or nine more loud pops and screams coming from inside the synagogue. He rushed back into his house, joined by a jogger and his daughter who had been outside the synagogue, and they all crouched down, wondering what was going on outside.
“It was truly like a surreal moment,” Waite said in an interview Sunday morning. “I obviously immediately felt this gut-wrenching kind of panic, and it hasn’t left yet.”
From the windows of his house, he saw two police snipers stalking through his front yard and crouched behind a tree, pointing their weapons toward the synagogue, and people running down the street.
“For a long time I didn’t look out the window; I was afraid,” Waite said.
The names of the victims, as released by the office of the Allegheny County medical examiner, including the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh in which they resided:
- Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland
- Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township, Pa.
- Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill
- Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough, Pa.
- Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill
- David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill
- Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg, Pa.
- Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg, Pa.
- Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill
- Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill
- Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington