PITTSBURGH, PA — A gunman, armed with an assault rifle and three handguns, opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood Saturday, killing at least 11 people and injuring six others in what the Anti-Defamation League described as likely “the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”
The victims are expected to be identified on Sunday.
Among the six people injured in the 20-minute shooting spree, four were police officers, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said at a press conference. Three of the officers were shot. Hissrich said the officers injuries were non-life threatening but the other injured in the shooting are in critical condition.
The gunman, identified as Robert Bowers of Pittsburgh, was confronted by police as he attempted to exit the synagogue. In an exchange of gunfire with officers, he was wounded, but is alive. Police did not identify the victims of the attack, however, officials said that no children were among the dead.
Bowers has been charged with 29 federal crimes. They are:
The FBI will be the lead agency investigating the shooting as a federal hate crime, officials said. According to The Associated Press, the shooting took place during a baby naming ceremony.
Bob Jones of Pittsburgh FBI said the victims were “brutally murdered” by a gunman targeting them because of their faith. The full motive of the attack is unknown, but authorities believe that Bowers acted alone. He was not known to law enforcement prior to the attack on Saturday morning.
Federal agents will be looking at everything in suspect’s past, his home, vehicle, social media and movements over past few days, Jones said.
“The scene is very bad inside,” Hissrich said, adding that it was horrific and one of the worst he’s ever seen.
There is no longer an active threat to the community, according to Hissrich.
The shooting drew condemnation from leaders and figures across the world and Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs will be flying to Pittsburgh Saturday night.
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Citing police sources, KDKA reported that the shooter yelled “All Jews Must Die” when he walked into the building.
The accused shooter apparently had an online presence on the social media website “Gab” where his latest post alluded to the shooting, Heavy.com noted. The post said “HIAS liked 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 Jewish non-profit organization that helps refugees.
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In a lengthy statement, Gab said it was alerted to a user profile of the alleged shooter that matched the name mentioned on police scanners.
“Gab took swift and proactive action to contact law enforcement immediately. We first backed up all user data from the account and then proceeded to suspend the account,” the statement said. “We then contacted the FBI and made them aware of this account and the user data in our possession. We are ready and willing to work with law enforcement to see to it that justice is served.”
Gab said it has a zero tolerance policy for terrorism and violence.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said a hotline has been established for victims’ families at 412-432-4400. A center has been set up at Chatham Univeristy at 106 Berry Street. A GoFundMe campaign has been started to raise funds for the congregation.
Speaking to reporters at Joint Base Andrews, President Donald Trump said the shooting “has little to do with” gun laws.
“If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better,” Trump said.
On Air Force One, Trump said he was considering canceling his rally in Illinois Saturday night but indicated at the Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis that the rally will go on as planned.
“We can’t let evil change our life and change our schedule,” Trump said. “You go with a heavy heart, but you go.”
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that he was “heartbroken and appalled” by the “murderous attack” at the synagogue.
“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.”
Naftali Bennet, Israel’s Minister of Education and Minister of Diaspora Affairs, is flying to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“When Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the people of Israel feel the pain,” Bennet said in a tweet. “Our hearts are with our brothers and sisters and with the entire American people.”
According to the synagogue’s website, Shabbat morning services were scheduled to take place from 9:45 a.m. to noon. The synagogue’s website says two congregations merged in 2010 to form the Tree of Life, which is described as a conservative Jewish congregation.
In a blog post in July, the congregation’s Rabbi, Jeffrey Myers, wrote about gun violence and school shooting in particular, saying that he feared the status quo would not change unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the mid-term elections.
“I shouldn’t have to include in my daily morning prayers that God should watch over my wife and daughter, both teachers, and keep them safe,” Myers wrote. “Where are our leaders?”
The synagogue is located at the intersection of Wilkins and Shady avenues. The tree-lined residential neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, is the hub of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
In a statement, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called the shootings “an absolute tragedy.”
“These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans,” he said. “My thoughts right now are focused on the victims, their families and making sure law enforcement has every resource they need.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, condemned the horrific violence in a statement.
“We are devastated. Jews targeted on Shabbat morning at synagogue, a holy place of worship, is unconscionable,” he said. “Our hearts break for the victims, their families, and the entire Jewish community.”
As a precaution, police in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles deployed officers to guard synagogues.
The deadly shooting comes at the end of a week when the country has been on edge as a number of mail bombs found addressed to prominent Democrats and ex-government officials were discovered in multiple states. On Friday, federal officials arrested 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc in connection with the mail bombs.
This report is being updated. Refresh for updates on this breaking news story.
Patch National Reporter Feroze Dhanoa contributed to this report.
Reporting from The Associated Press was used in this story.
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Photo: People hold candles as they gather for a vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)