Gunman Kills Worshippers in Pittsburgh Synagogue

A man yelling “all Jews must die” burst into a Pittsburgh synagogue during Sabbath services Saturday, shooting indiscriminately and killing congregants in the latest mass shooting in the United States. 

Officials have not released the total number of dead, but local media reports in Pennsylvania said as many as eight people were killed inside the Tree of Life Synagogue.  

The Federal Bureau of Investigation took the lead in the investigation, “as this falls under a hate crime,” Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich told reporters near the synagogue. He described the shootings as “one of the worst crimes I’ve ever seen.” 

Hissrich said six people were wounded, including four police officers. 

Media reports identifed the suspect in custody as Robert Bowers, 48, from just south of Pittsburgh. He was taken to a hospital for treatment of undisclosed injuries, authorities said.

Social media posts apparently made by Bowers indicated hatred of Jews. One message stated: “I can’t wait while my people are getting slaughtered … I’m going in.” 

President Donald Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews, Md., he would make a full statement about the attack during his afternoon speech in Indianapolis to the Future Farmers of America. 

“When people do this, they should get the penalty,” said the president, prior to boarding Air Force One. “They should very much bring the death penalty into vogue.” 

If the synagogue “had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately,” Trump added. “They had a maniac walk in and they didn’t have any protection.” 

Asked whether all houses of worship in America now need armed guards, Trump responded “it’s certainly an option” in a “world with a lot of problems.” 

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement calling the shooting “an absolute tragedy.” He said he had spoken with local leaders and would provide resources to help law enforcement and first responders with the crisis. 

“These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans,” he said. 

“I was heartbroken and appalled by the murderous attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue today,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who graduated from high school in Pennsylvania. 

Several Sabbath services and a circumcision ceremony for an infant, attended by dozens of worshipers on three levels of the building, were underway in the predominately Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill at 9:30 a.m. local time when the first shots were fired, congregants said. 

Tree of Life traces its roots to the beginning of organized Judaism in Pittsburgh in the mid-1860s and has occupied its current building since 1946. 

VOA’s Marissa Melton contributed to this report. 

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