A 97-year-old woman, two brothers and a couple in their 80s were among the 11 worshippers murdered at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the United States, officials said on Sunday.
The suspected gunman, 46-year-old Robert Bowers of Pittsburgh, stormed the building during a Saturday morning service and also wounded six other people including four police officers before being arrested.
Bowers, who made statements about genocide and his desire to kill Jewish people during the rampage, will make an initial appearance before a judge on Monday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said at a news conference.
“The fact that this attack took place during a worship service makes it even more heinous,” Brady said.
The Tree of Life synagogue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, a heavily Jewish area, was holding a Shabbat religious service when the gunman burst in.
Two brothers in their 50s and a husband and wife in their 80s were among those killed, according to the list of victims released by officials.
Two people were in critical condition at area hospitals and three others, including one police officer, were in stable condition. One police officer was treated and released on Saturday.
The mass shooting prompted security alerts at houses of worship around the country and condemnation from politicians and religious leaders.
It followed a spate of pipe bombs found mailed in recent days to prominent political figures, mostly Democrats including former U.S. President Barack Obama, ahead of Nov. 6 congressional elections.
“We’ll get through this darkest day of Pittsburgh history by working together,” the city’s mayor, Bill Peduto, told reporters.
The suspected gunman, 46-year-old Robert Bowers
“I’M GOING IN”
Bowers had made many anti-Semitic posts online, including one early on Saturday. In another, he slammed U.S. President Donald Trump for doing nothing to stop an “infestation” of the United States by Jews.
A social media post by Bowers on Saturday morning said a Jewish refugee organization, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, “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”.
U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat who is Jewish, said on Sunday the country needs to combat a climate of hatred and division that he said Trump helped foster.
“Honestly I think this president’s whole modus operandi is to divide us. He gets up in the morning with new and inventive ways to divide us,” Schiff said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
On Saturday, Trump called the shooting an act of pure evil and called on Americans to rise above hatred.
Bowers surrendered after a shootout with a SWAT team. Federal prosecutors charged him late on Saturday with 29 criminal counts including violence and firearms offenses, and violating U.S. civil rights laws.
Several of the charges could carry the death penalty.
The Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Council for Public Affairs described it as the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.
In Israel, cabinet ministers stood for a moment of silence on Sunday to honor the victims of the shooting.
“ALL JEWS MUST DIE”
KDKA television cited police sources as saying Bowers walked into the building and yelled “All Jews must die”.
FBI Special Agent Robert Jones said Bowers was armed with an assault rifle and three handguns. Jones added that he did not know why Bowers picked the particular synagogue for his attack.
He said authorities believed the suspect entered the synagogue, murdered the worshippers and was leaving when he encountered a uniformed police officer. The pair exchanged gunfire, Jones said, and Bowers reentered the building before a SWAT team arrived.
Bowers was taken to a hospital where he was listed in fair condition with multiple gunshot wounds.
At one point on Saturday. Trump told reporters that the killings might have been prevented if there had been an armed guard. Synagogue officials said police would only normally have been present there for security on high holidays.
Peduto said at Sunday’s news conference that armed guards would not have prevented the violence.
“We’re dealing with irrational behavior. There is no way that you can rationalize a person walking into a synagogue during services and taking the lives of 11 people.”