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Shooting at Pittsburgh synagogue widely condemned, deemed 'unconscionable'

"This is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States," said the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.
Image: Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting
Tammy Hepps, Kate Rothstein and her daughter, Simone Rothstein, 16, pray from a prayerbook a block away from the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Oct. 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

Reactions and prayers poured in after a suspected gunman opened fire on a congregation at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, leaving 11 dead and three injured, according to local officials.

The incident occurred Saturday morning in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, which is home to a large Jewish population. Shortly after the suspect was taken into custody by police, he was identified by law enforcement officials as Robert Bowers, 46, a resident of the Pittsburgh area.

Various social media accounts in his name appear to show a history of anti-Semitic messages and hate speech.

Former President Barack Obama condemned the violence and called again for stricter limits on gun possession.

"We grieve for the Americans murdered in Pittsburgh," he tweeted. "All of us have to fight the rise of anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric against those who look, love, or pray differently. And we have to stop making it so easy for those who want to harm the innocent to get their hands on a gun."

U.S.-based and international Jewish groups also condemned the attack.

"This is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States," said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive for the Anti-Defamation League. "We are devastated. Jews targeted on Shabbat morning at synagogue, a holy place of worship, is unconscionable."

Another organization, HIAS, a nonprofit focusing on protecting refugees, wrote in a statement, "This loss is our loss, and our thoughts are with Tree of Life Congregation, our local partner Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) of Pittsburgh, the city of Pittsburgh and all those affected by this senseless act of violence."

The World Jewish Congress, an international organization representing Jewish communities, wrote in a statement, "This was an attack not just on the Jewish community, but on America as a whole."

The group went on to say that these attacks must be condemned and "do everything in our power to stop these atrocities from happening again."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, who was born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, also responded in a statement: "This horrific act of violence perpetrated against a holy people on their holy day reminds us of the reality of evil and the need to counter its influence with courage and love."

Hatch added, "The hatred in this man's heart has no place in a society founded in the ideal of religious freedom."

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted after his initial visit to the scene of the crime, "These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans." Wolf added his support of stronger gun laws saying, "Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harms way."

President Donald Trump spoke at the pre-scheduled Future Farmers of America Convention in Indiana Saturday afternoon calling the incident "pure evil" and an "anti-Semitic attack."

His daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, tweeted, "America is stronger than the acts of a depraved bigot and anti-semite." Trump converted to Judaism after marrying Jared Kushner in 2009.

Vice President Mike Pence also responded, tweeting Saturday: "Monitoring reports of shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Praying for the fallen, the injured, all the families impacted, and our courageous first responders."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions condemned the attacks, calling them "reprehensible" and said the Department of Justice will file hate crimes and other criminal charges against Bowers.

"Hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society,” Sessions said. “Every American has the right to attend their house of worship in safety."

The United States Holocaust Museum in D.C., the scene of a 2009 hate crime where an 88-year-old gunman fatally shot a security guard, wrote in a statement about Saturday's shooting, "Before opening fire, the alleged perpetrator reportedly yelled, 'All Jews must die!' The Museum reminds all Americans of the dangers of unchecked hatred and antisemitism which must be confronted wherever they appear and calls on all Americans to actively work to promote social solidarity and respect the dignity of all individuals."

According to the Anti-Defamation League's 2017 audit, incidents of anti-Semitism rose 57 percent, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number since they began tracking hate crime data in 1979.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, put the recent incident in context with previous attacks in places of worship.

"It reminds us of the slaughter of nine African American worshipers at Charleston's Mother Emmanuel Church in 2015, the killings of six Sikh worshipers at a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2014, and, of course, the bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 that left four young African American girls dead," Cohen said in a statement.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, expressed their solidarity with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh in the aftermath of the attack.

"This barbaric attack on our neighbors, with whom we share our city and have visited and dialogued multiple times, is deeply disturbing and horrifying," CAIR-Pittsburgh Chapter President Safdar Khwaja said. "Such an act of terror affects all of us. We offer our full support and assistance in the aftermath of this tragedy, and our doors are open at all times to our neighbors."

Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh also condemned the attack, telling reporters "there is no explanation" for the hate and violence involved. "It's something that's getting worse, and we certainly have to look for ways to say, 'never again,'" he said. "We keep on saying that, and things continue to get worse."