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11 people killed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, official says

Posted at 9:27 AM, Oct 27, 2018

(CNN) — Eleven people were killed in a shooting Saturday morning at the Tree of Life synagoguein Pittsburgh, according to officials.

Six people were wounded, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said, four of whom were police officers who responded to the scene. No children were among the dead, he said.

A city official have previously told CNN 10 people were killed.

Law enforcement officials told CNN the suspect has been identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers, and that the suspect made anti-Semitic statements during the shooting.

Social media postings targeting Jews that are believed to have come from Bowers are a focus of the investigation, a federal law enforcement official told CNN.

“These incidents usually occur in other cities,” Hissrich told reporters Saturday afternoon. “Today the nightmare has hit home in the city of Pittsburgh.”

Latest developments

• Authorities could bring criminal charges against the suspected gunmanas soon as today, Scott Brady, the United States attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said in a news conference. The full weight of the US Attorney’s office will be utilized in this hate crime prosecution, he said.

• Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement the Department of Justice “will file hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant, including charges that could lead to the death penalty.”

• A rifle and three handguns were recovered from the scene of the shooting, according to Bob Jones, FBI Pittsburgh special agent in charge.

• The suspect suffered multiple gunshot wounds and is in fair condition, Hissrich told reporters. CNN previously reported the shooter surrendered and was taken to Mercy Hospital.

• Authorities believe the suspected gunman acted alone, Jones said, and it’s not believed law enforcement had any knowledge of Bowers before Saturday. His motive is currently unknown.

Live updates: Mass shooting at Pittsburgh synagogue

The Allegheny County Emergency Operations center received calls of an active shooter at 9:54 a.m. ET, Hissrich told reporters.

Officers were dispatched at 9:55 a.m., and a confrontation between police and the suspect followed. Two police officers and two SWAT officers were wounded in the confrontation.

Fred Rabner, a member of the synagogue, said it is a “close-knit community,” and that everyone was calling around to make sure their loved ones are OK.

“Everyone is just shaken up and upset,” Rabner said. “It’s awful, it’s just awful.”

“It’s a very horrific crime scene,” Hissrich said at a brief morning news conference. “It’s one of the worst I’ve seen.”

Social media postings part of investigation

A law enforcement source told CNN that investigators believe that postings on an account on Gab, a social media platform, belong to Bowers. The language on the account matches the suspected motivation behind the shootings, the source said.

The Gab account has frequent anti-Semitic postings.

The suspect made a final post at 9:49 a.m., just five minutes before police were alerted to the shooting.

“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” he wrote. “Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Bowers also shared other anti-Semitic comments alongside xenophobic content on the platform. In one post, he claimed Jews were helping transport members of the migrant caravans in Latin America.

He said he believed those in the migrant caravans were violent because they were attempting to leave countries that had high levels of violence. Bowers repeatedly called them “invaders.”

Among the anti-Semitics posts were also criticisms of President Donald Trump that suggested he was surrounded by too many Jewish people.

“Trump is surrounded by k****”, “things will stay the course,” read one post on Gab, using a derogatory term to describe Jews.

Roughly four hours before the shooting, Bowers commented in a post that he did not vote for Trump.

In a statement, Gab disavowed “all acts of terrorism and violence” and said its mission was to defend free expression and individual liberty online for all people.”

After being alerted to the suspect’s profile on the platform, Gab said it backed up the data, suspended the account and contacted the FBI.

In one post, Bowers wrote, “HIAS likes to bring in invaders that kill our people,” referring to a Jewish refugee advocacy group that held a National Refugee Shabbat last weekend.

Bowers also posted photos on his Gab account showing his handgun collection, including multiple clips and sights.

On September 20, Bowers posted images of shooting targets he said were from July 2017. He said he was firing at the targets with a Walther PPQ handgun.

Sources told CNN that investigators found weapons at the scene of the shooting and in the gunman’s car.

Shooting ‘more devastating than originally thought,’ Trump says

The FBI will be the lead investigating agency, Hissrich said. He added the shooting would be prosecuted as a hate crime, “being that it is a Jewish synagogue.”

Saturday, the bureau issued bulletins to federal, state and local law enforcement partners across the country to provide situational awareness of the Pittsburgh shooting, a law enforcement official told CNN.

The FBI is confirming to its partners that the matter is being investigated as a hate crime and the shooter is believed to have shouted anti-Semitic remarks.

According to the official, the FBI indicates there are no known specific or credible threats to other US Jewish places of worship.

Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland that the shooting was a “terrible, terrible thing.”

“If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him,” Trump said before boarding a flight to Indianapolis.

After landing, Trump told reporters the shooting looks like “an anti-Semitic crime.”

“We’re learning a lot about it. It looks definitely like it’s an anti-Semitic crime. And that is something you wouldn’t believe could still be going on,” he said.

Trump previously said in a tweet that the shooting was “far more devastating than originally thought.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said on Twitter that it was a “serious situation,” and the Pennsylvania State Police were helping local first responders.

“This is an absolute tragedy,” Wolf said in another tweet. “These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans. My thoughts right now are focused on the victims, their families and making sure law enforcement has every resource they need.”

Special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are responding to the shooting, according to the ATF’s Philadelphia field office.

Anti-Semitic incidents in US surged in 2017

The Tree of Life synagogue is a Conservative Jewish congregation, according to its website. It’s in Squirrel Hill, a historic Jewish neighborhood. The synagogue has a Shabbat service at 9:45 a.m. Saturdays, the website said.

Conservative Judaism is one of the major denominations of the religion. The word “conservative” is not a political designation.

In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents in the United States surged nearly 60%, according to the Anti-Defamation League. It found 1,986 cases of harassment, vandalism or physical assault against Jews and Jewish institutions last year.

Security had been a ‘major concern’ for the congregation

Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the Tree of Life congregation, said three congregations — Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash — would have been holding simultaneous services in the building on a typical Saturday.

There would usually would be about 40 people attending the Tree of Life service in the “main part of the building,” Eisenberg said. In the basement below, New Light’s service would also have about 30 to 40 people. And the Dor Hadash congregation in the rabbi’s study room would have about 15 people, he said.

“On a day like today, the door is open,” Eisenberg told a reporter for CNN affiliate KDKA. “It’s a religious service. You could walk in and out. Only on the high holidays is there a police presence at the entrance.”

When he was the congregation’s president, security was a “major concern,” Eisenberg said.

The congregation had worked with the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate its exit routes, he said, and consulted a securities expert at the Jewish Federation about what to do in an active shooter situation.

“We were working with the other synagogues on what to do if something horrific like this happened,” he said.

Tree of Life’s former rabbi,Chuck Diamond, told KDKA, “Jews come late to services, so for a lot of people that’s probably a good thing today.”

“This is what you dread hearing,” he said, adding he was concerned for those who might have arrived at the service on time, most of whom would have been older.