Police: Pittsburgh synagogue gunman said he wanted all Jews to die

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Pittsburgh synagogue shooting leaves 11 dead, 4 officers injured; suspect in custody

The suspect in the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and told officers afterward that Jews were committing genocide and he wanted them all to die, according to charging documents made public Sunday.

Robert Gregory Bowers killed eight men and three women inside the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday during worship services before a tactical police team tracked him down and shot him, police said in an affidavit, which contained some unreported details on the shooting and the police response.

RELATED:Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect: What we know

Officials released the names of all 11 victims during a news conference Sunday, all of them middle-aged or elderly. The victims included a pair of brothers and a husband and wife. The oldest was 97.

Bowers, who was armed with an AR-15 rifle and three handguns, told an officer while he was being treated for his injuries "that he wanted all Jews to die and also that they (Jews) were committing genocide to his people," the affidavit said.

The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania announced that Bowers is facing 29 charges:

-11 counts of Obstruction of Exercise of Religious Beliefs Resulting in Death
-11 counts of Use of a Firearm to Commit Murder During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence
-4 counts of Obstruction of Exercise of Religious Beliefs Resulting in Bodily Injury to a Public Safety Officer
-3 counts of Use and Discharge of a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence

Bob Jones, the special agent in charge of the FBI's office in Pittsburgh, said investigators Bowers was not known to law enforcement and that they believe he was acting alone. He said Bowers' full motive still isn't known.

The social media site Gab.com said the alleged shooter had a profile on its website, which is popular with far-right extremists. The company said the account was verified after the shooting and matched the name of the gunman.

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Local, state and federal officials hold a news conference on the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on October 27, 2018.



A man with the same name posted on Gab before the shooting that "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."

HIAS is a nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom. The organization says it is guided by Jewish values and history.

Bowers also recently posted a photo of a collection of three semi-automatic handguns he titled "my glock family," a reference to the firearms manufacturer. He also posted photos of bullet holes in person-sized targets at a firing range, touting the "amazing trigger" on a handgun he was offering for sale.

City officials said the shooting was being investigated as a federal hate crime. It comes amid a rash of high-profile attacks in an increasingly divided country, including the series of pipe bombs mailed over the past week to prominent Democrats and former officials.

The shooting also immediately reignited the longstanding national debate about 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 noted that once again "dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm's way."

The people who provided the death toll spoke to The Associated Press anonymously because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the shooting.

The attack took place during a baby naming ceremony, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. It was unknown whether the baby was harmed.

"It is a very horrific crime scene. It's one of the worst that I've seen and I've been on some plane crashes," said a visibly moved Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director.
The synagogue is located in the tree-lined residential neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and the hub of Pittsburgh's Jewish community.

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, said the group believes it is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

"Our hearts break for the families of those killed and injured at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and for the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh," Greenblatt said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "heartbroken and appalled" by the attack.
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Michael Eisenberg, the former president of Tree of Life Synagogue, describes the police response to Saturday's Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.


"The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead," Netanyahu said. "We stand together with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. We stand together with the American people in the face of this horrendous anti-Semitic brutality. And we all pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded."

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder called the shooting "an attack not just on the Jewish community, but on America as a whole."

Trump called the shooting a "wicked act of mass murder" that "is pure evil, hard to believe and frankly something that is unimaginable."

Trump has at times been accused by critics of failing to adequately condemn hate, such as when he blamed "both sides" for the violence at a Charlottesville white supremacist rally.

On Saturday, he said that anti-Semitism "must be confronted anywhere and everywhere it appears."

In 2010, Tree of Life Congregation - founded more than 150 years ago - merged with Or L'Simcha to form Tree of Life (asterisk) Or L'Simcha.

The synagogue is a fortress-like concrete building, its facade punctuated by rows of swirling, modernistic stained-glass windows illustrating the story of creation, the acceptance of God's law, the "life cycle" and "how human-beings should care for the earth and one another," according to its website. Among its treasures is a "Holocaust Torah," rescued from Czechoslovakia.

Its sanctuary can hold up to 1,250 guests.
Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the Tree of Life Synagogue, lives about a block from the building.

He was getting ready for services when he received a phone call from a member who works with Pittsburgh's Emergency Services, saying he had been notified through scanner and other communications that there was an active shooter at their synagogue.

"I ran out of the house without changing and I saw the street blocked with police cars. It was a surreal scene. And someone yelled, 'Get out of here.' I realized it was a police officer along the side of the house. ... I am sure I know all of the people, all of the fatalities. I am just waiting to see," Eisenberg said.

He said officials at the synagogue had not gotten any threats that he knew of prior to the shooting. The synagogue maintenance employees had recently checked all of the emergency exits and doors to make sure they were cleared and working.

"I spoke to a maintenance person who was in the building and heard the shots. He was able to escape through one of the side exit doors we had made sure was functioning," Eisenberg said.

Jeff Finkelstein of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh said local synagogues have done "lots of training on things like active shooters, and we've looked at hardening facilities as much as possible."

"This should not be happening, period," he told reporters at the scene. "This should not be happening in a synagogue."

Just three days before the shooting, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers posted a column on the congregation's website, noting that people make time to attend funerals, but not for life's happy occasions.

"There is a story told in the Talmud of a wedding procession and a funeral procession heading along parallel roads, with the roads intersecting," Myers wrote on Wednesday. "The question asked is: when they meet at the fork, which procession goes first, funeral or wedding? The correct answer is wedding, as the joy of the couple takes precedence. In fact, the funeral procession is to move out of sight so that their joy is not lessened."

Myers ended his column with words that now seem all too prescient.

"We value joy so much in Judaism that upon taking our leave from a funeral or a shiva house, the customary statement one makes (in Yiddish) is 'nor oyf simches' - only for s'machot," Myers wrote. "While death is inevitable and a part of life, we still take our leave with the best possible blessing, to meet at joyous events. And so I say to you: nor oyf simches!"

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the following statement on the horrific tragedy in Pittsburgh:

Hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society. Every American has the right to attend their house of worship in safety. Today 11 innocent people were suddenly and viciously murdered during religious services and several law enforcement officers were shot. These alleged crimes are reprehensible and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation. Accordingly, the Department of Justice will file hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant, including charges that could lead to the death penalty. It has been an important week for us to show gratitude for the hard work of our law officers around the country. And today was no exception. I want to thank the FBI, ATF, Pittsburgh police, and especially the heroic officers who were so quick to respond to the shooting, including the multiple officers who were shot. These officers ran to danger to save others, which reflects the highest traditions of policing in this country. There can be no doubt that they saved lives today. The Department of Justice will continue to support our state and local partners and we will continue to bring the full force of the law against anyone who would violate the civil rights of the American people.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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