A man yelling “all these Jews must die” burst into the Eitz Chaim Synagogue in Pittsburgh during Sabbath services Saturday, shooting indiscriminately and killing 11 congregants in the latest mass shooting in the United States.
Six people, including a police officer who confronted the attacker, were wounded, according to officials, who say two of the civilian victims are in critical condition.
This is “likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The suspect in custody, 46-year-old Robert Bowers, from just south of the city of Pittsburgh, is in fair condition with multiple gunshot wounds, according to Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich.
Federal prosecutors have charged Bowers with 29 criminal counts, including violence and firearms offenses, and violating U.S. civil rights laws.
“We are dedicating the entire resources of my office to this federal hate crime investigation and prosecution” said Scott Brady, the U.S. attorney for western Pennsylvania.
Authorities say the suspect was armed with an assault rifle and three handguns when he entered the synagogue where about 80 people had gathered for weekly worship, as well as a circumcision ceremony.
The White House has ordered all U.S. flags on government property to be flown at half-staff through Oct. 31 “as a mark of solemn respect for the victims of the terrible act of violence.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is taking the lead, investigating the shooting as a hate crime.
Social media posts attributed to Bowers indicated his hatred of Jews.
In a message he apparently posted just minutes before the attack, he stated that a Jewish refugee agency, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t wait while my people are getting slaughtered … I’m going in.”
HIAS, founded in 1881, is one of nine national refugee resettlement agencies that partners with the U.S. government to resettle refugees as part of the U.S. refugee admissions programs. HIAS said in a statement that it “rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are.” HIAS has also been criticized by political conservatives for expending so much time, energy and resources in bringing Muslims to the United States who may possibly have terrorist affiliations.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Rabbinical Council of America expressed their deepest sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives in the horrific murders that took place during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.
“We pray for the speedy recovery of those injured in the shooting”, the organizations wrote in a joint declaration, “including the brave police officers who rushed directly into the active crime scene.”
“This senseless act of anti-Semitic violence was not only an egregious attack on the Jewish community, but an attack on the very foundations of civil society and our collective democratic values,” said Allen Fagin, the Orthodox Union’s executive vice president.
“Our hearts break for the senseless murder of our fellow Jews and all victims of vicious hate crimes,” said Moishe Bane, president of the Orthodox Union. “We condemn the dangerous rhetoric that foments such senseless violence and we stand with the Tree of Life Congregation and the whole Pittsburgh community at this terrible time.”
“We live in contentious times, when fringe elements of society have become emboldened by speech which is often disrespectful and hateful,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America. “As a nation, committed to the freedom and rights of all, we must commit to reach out not only to those who are like us – but especially as our sacred Torah has taught us – to those with whom we disagree.”
“One of the greatest privileges of those who are fortunate to be citizens of the United States is the freedom to worship as we believe and to live in safety and security. We need to come together as a nation to protect these precious gifts for all members of all faiths,” said Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America.
Agudath Israel of America defined the shooting as “is a horrific tragedy and an outrage”. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the mourning families and friends of the victims who were targeted because they were Jews”, the organization wrote in an official declaration, “We extend our deepest gratitude to the law enforcement personnel who arrived at the scene and captured the murderer. We also thank law enforcement across the country who are ramping up security measures around houses of worship”.
“There are simply no words of condemnation that can truly express our anguish and disgust at the perpetrator of this hate-fueled act or others like it. Any platform or group, including those on social media, that serves to stir up and metastasize bigotry and anti-Semitic hatred, needs to be called out and shut down for incitement of violence. Until all Americans confront the horror of anti-Semitism head on, our great Democracy will not have achieved its promise”.
“May those who were injured in today’s senseless violence have a speedy and complete recovery from their wounds”.
In a statement sent to the media via e-mail, the Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim said of the Pittsburgh tragedy: “With profound sorrow and grief, we extend our boundless expressions of support and solidarity to the victims, their families, and the survivors of the brutal, horrendous attack that took place this Sabbath morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We commend the brave members of the Pittsburgh Police Department and first–responders who rushed to aid the injured and to courageously contain the appalling and evil carnage perpetrated by a malevolent and hateful individual seeking to murder innocent people gathered in celebration of faith, life and community.”
The Rabbinical Alliance of America (RAA) — Igud HaRabbonim, with a membership of over 950 Orthodox Rabbis across the United States and Canada — calls upon all people of goodwill to unite in prayer to our Creator beseeching His protection and to increase in acts of charity and loving-kindness to help heal our fractured society. Rabbi Yehoshua S. Hecht, Chairman of the RAA presidium, asks all member rabbis to call for additional prayers to be recited immediately at all prayer services for the healing of the injured amongst the civilian and police.
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, Executive Vice President of the RAA, stated that, “A hate attack on anyone is an attack on all of society. All decent people must come together to condemn such evil.” May the One who makes peace in the Heavenly heights make peace upon us and upon all Israel, Amen.
AIPAC, Israel’s largest and most influential lobby in the United States said in a statement: “We are appalled by the horrific anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We mourn for the precious lives that were lost and we pray for the recovery of those who were wounded by the demented gunman. We salute the courage of the law enforcement officers and other first responders who prevented the further loss of life.
Sadly, today’s slaughter does not stand alone as representing the scourge of anti-Semitism. Throughout the world, we are witnessing the alarming rise of hatred directed against Jews and Jewish institutions.
All good people must unite against this deeply disturbing trend. While we mourn today, we must work tomorrow and every day against this senseless hatred and violence.
Our prayers are with the victims and their families and the congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue.”