A man armed with a semiautomatic assault-style rifle stormed the Tree of Life synagogue here Saturday and shot worshipers during Shabbat services, killing 11 and wounding six in the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the United States.
The mass shooting targeted members of a synagogue that is an anchor of Pittsburgh’s large and close-knit Jewish community, a massacre that authorities immediately labeled a hate crime as they investigated the suspect’s history of anti-Semitic online screeds.
Law enforcement officials identified the alleged shooter as Robert D. Bowers, 46, a Pittsburgh resident who the FBI said was not previously known to law enforcement. He was charged with 29 counts of federal crimes of violence and firearms offenses, federal prosecutors said late Saturday.
A man with that name had posted anti-Semitic statements on social media before the shooting, expressing anger that a nonprofit Jewish organization in the neighborhood has helped refugees settle in the United States. In what appeared to be his final social media post hours before the attack, the man wrote: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Bowers allegedly burst into the synagogue’s regular Saturday 9:45 a.m. service with an AR-15-style assault rifle and three handguns, authorities said. Witnesses told police he shouted anti-Semitic statements and began firing. The synagogue, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, did not have armed security guards.
Police received calls about an active shooter at 9:54 a.m. and dispatched officers a minute later. Police said Bowers left the building and encountered the responding officers, shooting one before retreating into the synagogue to hide. More officers responded and, after an exchange of gunfire, Bowers suffered multiple gunshot wounds, was arrested and was taken to a hospital, authorities said.
Four police officers were shot during the response and were in stable condition late Saturday. It was unclear late Saturday whether Bowers was speaking with authorities or had an attorney.
Federal prosecutors filed 29 counts against Bowers, charging him with federal civil rights crimes. Bowers was charged with obstructing exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, using a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence, obstructing exercise of religious beliefs resulting in an injury to a public safety officer and using a firearm during a crime of violence.
The charges were announced in a statement released by Scott W. Brady, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and Robert Jones, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh office. Court documents were not immediately available and were expected to be released Sunday morning.
The Pittsburgh massacre is yet another example of the homicidal fury and bigotry on the fringes of American society. It weaves together elements of many other active-shooter incidents that have horrified Americans in recent years, and highlighted the unusual frequency of mass casualty events in this country in comparison with almost every other nation in the world.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: The Washington Post, Deanna Paul, Avi Selk, Amy Wang, and Mark Berman