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Shooter opens fire in Pittsburgh synagogue, kills 11

On Saturday morning, a man opened fire during a naming ceremony at Tree of Life Congregation, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and killed 11 people while injuring six, including four police officers. Law enforcement took into custody a man they identified as Robert Bowers. Executive Editor David Shribman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Good evening and thanks for joining us.

    At least 11 people are dead and six more wounded after a man walked into a synagogue near downtown Pittsburgh with an assault rife and three handguns. and opened fire.

    The shooter, identified by local sources as Robert Bowers, exchanged fire with police, wounding four officers, then barricaded himself inside the synagogue before surrendering.

    Authorities say he was also shot multiple times.

    The FBI calls it a hate crime, and a social media account linked to the suspect is filled with anti-Semitic posts and threats.

  • WENDELL D. HISSRICH, PITTSBURGH SAFETY DIRECTOR:

    It's a very horrific crime scene. It's one of the worst that I've seen. And I've been on some plane crashes. It's very bad.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The mass murder happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where there were services underway including a baby naming ceremony.

    For hours this morning residents in the area were told to shelter in place as SWAT teams raced through the streets.

    Police officials said there were no other suspects or explosive devices and gave the all clear once the gunman was captured.

    At an event this afternoon in Indiana, President Trump called the attack an anti-Semitic one.

  • DONALD TRUMP:

    This wicked act of mass murder is pure evil, hard to believe, and frankly something that is unimaginable. Our nation and the world are shocked and stunned by the grief.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Earlier, the president declined to comment on gun laws, instead focusing on the possibility that an armed guard at the synagogue might have prevented the attack.

  • TRUMP:

    This would be a case for if there was an armed guard inside the temple , they would be able to stop him. Maybe no one would have been killed except him.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    David Shribman is the executive editor at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. He joins us now via Skype. Thanks for being with us. First give us a sense of this community where this happened.

  • DAVID SHRIBMAN:

    Well this is a Squirrel Hill, it's a traditionally Jewish, it's one of the most important Jewish communities in the history of American Jewry, Judaism. It's really one of the areas where reform Judaism began and flourished and now it is also an area of Orthodox Jews. It's not uncommon to see Jews walking down the street on their way to a synagogue on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, completely unremarkable.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    I know you've got other reporters working on multiple stories. What's the initial response been like? I know other synagogues were also in lock-down for a number of hours.

  •  DAVID SHRIBMAN:

    Yes and the entire good portions of Squirrel Hill also were on lock-down and the banks were closed, stores were closed. I had trouble getting to my home on my way to the office. It's less unsettled now but nonetheless it was a very difficult situation. This is a very close knit community everyone knows everyone's names, everybody knows how important the Jewish community is to this area and it's a shock and a tragedy as you know.

  •  HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Are there any organizations that are pitching in to try to figure out how to provide grief counseling on such a large scale?

  • DAVID SHRIBMAN:

    Well there's the usual Red Cross and such are going on. Plus, there's been an outpouring of support from other faiths such. I just saw on television, Bishop Zubik, who is the bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh expressing his grief, his support. He is a special friend of the Jewish community. He is very close to the rabbis, there are 12 synagogues within a mile of that area.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What sorts of, sort of, facilities hardening or preparations have these synagogues and these congregations taken in the past? I mean, unfortunately, this is…

  • DAVID SHRIBMAN:

    In the past, this has been a community, where, as I said before, the Jewish worship has been relatively unremarkable. Totally integrated into the fabric of this community. No one has given much of a thought to security here. They will in recent and future days. But you know, on the high holidays, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, there surely are policemen but there are mostly to direct traffic, unless there's a charge of violence. This will change the nature and character of this community and its ways of worship, quite substantially.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Were police already at this facility as part of normal security protocol?

  • DAVID SHRIBMAN:

    I doubt that they were. This is a, my guess is that there were a few of them, two dozen people in there.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Alright. David Shribman, executive editor at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette joining us via Skype. Thanks so much.

  • DAVID SHRIBMAN:

    Thanks.

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