29 Oct 2018

Pittsburgh shooting: What we know so far

5:40 am on 29 October 2018

The names of the 11 people killed in Saturday's attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh have been released, with the oldest aged 97.

 The shooting is the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.

The shooting is the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history. Photo: AFP

Two brothers and a husband and wife were among those killed. Six people were injured, including four policemen.

The suspect, Robert Bowers, 46, is in custody and faces 29 criminal counts in what is thought to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.

Mayor Bill Peduto said this was the "darkest day of Pittsburgh's history".

President Donald Trump has called the attack a "wicked act of mass murder".

Who are the victims?

The ages of the 11 victims ranged from 54 to 97. They are:

  • Joyce Fienberg, 75
  • Richard Gottfried, 65
  • Rose Mallinger, 97
  • Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
  • Cecil Rosenthal, 59
  • David Rosenthal, 54, brother of Cecil
  • Bernice Simon, 84
  • Sylvan Simon, 86, husband of Bernice
  • Daniel Stein, 71
  • Melvin Wax, 88
  • Irving Younger, 69

A 61-year-old woman and a 70-year-old man are also currently being treated for injuries. The man had gunshot wounds to the torso and is in a critical condition.

Daniel Stein's nephew, Steven Halle, described him as "somebody that everybody liked" and a "kind soul".

He said his uncle had recently become a grandfather and attended the synagogue every Saturday for services.

One injured officer was released from hospital on Saturday, another was to be released on Sunday with the other two needing more treatment.

What happened?

The gunman entered the building shortly before 10:00 local time (14:00 GMT) on Saturday, during a service.

He was armed with three Glock 57 handguns and an AR-15 assault rifle.

He was leaving the building when he was met by emergency responders.

Two officers - among the first to arrive - were injured in an initial confrontation with the gunman.

A further two Swat team members were hurt inside the building, clashing with the shooter.

The gunman suffered multiple gunshot wounds and surrendered to the authorities.

The crime scene was "horrific", Pittsburgh's Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich told reporters. "One of the worst I've seen, and I've [worked] on some plane crashes. It's very bad," he added.

What are the charges?

The 29 charges were announced in a statement issued by the US Attorney's Office of the Western District of Pennsylvania:

  • Eleven counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence. These can carry the death penalty
  • Four counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer
  • Three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence

How did the shooting unfold?

On Saturday morning, worshippers had gathered at the Tree of Life synagogue for a baby naming ceremony during the Sabbath.

Squirrel Hill has one of the largest Jewish populations in Pennsylvania and this would have been the synagogue's busiest day of the week.

Police said they received first calls about an active shooter at 09:54 local time (13:54 GMT), and sent officers to the scene a minute later.

According to reports, Mr Bowers, a white male, entered the building during the morning service armed with an assault rifle and three handguns.

The gunman had already shot dead 11 people and was leaving the synagogue after about 20 minutes when he encountered Swat officers and exchanged fire with them, FBI agent Robert Jones said.

The attacker then moved back into the building to try to hide from the police.

He surrendered after a shootout.

The crime scene was "horrific", Pittsburgh's Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich told reporters. "One of the worst I've seen, and I've [worked] on some plane crashes. It's very bad."

Who is the gunman?

The suspect has been named as Robert Bowers. He is in fair condition in hospital.

FBI special agent Robert Jones said that Mr Bowers did not appear to be known to authorities prior to events on Saturday.

Mr Bowers has posted anti-Semitic content on social network Gab under the username "onedingo".

The bio on his account - now suspended - read: "Jews are the children of Satan".

On Saturday morning, he criticised refugee aid group Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and said he could not "sit by and watch my people get slaughtered".

"Screw your optics, I'm going in," he wrote.

In earlier posts, he attacked US President Donald Trump and his "Make America Great Again" (Maga) slogan, as well as the Jewish community.

"Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist," he wrote.

In another post, he said: "For the record, I did not vote for him [Trump] nor have I owned, worn or even touched a maga hat."

He also expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy - an unsubstantiated, far-right fringe theory based on the belief that Mr Trump is organising a secret plan to investigate and arrest famous or politically elite child abusers.

What is Gab?

Gab is a social network site created in August 2016 as an alternative to Twitter.

Founder Andrew Torba told Buzzfeed News he set it up as a response to the "entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly".

Critics say it is a space for hate speech and people banned from mainstream social media. It was dubbed "the ultimate filter bubble" in a Wired editorial that attacked the network.

However, Mr Torba stressed the site was not for any particular group or political supporters, and has reiterated this on his Gab page.

In the wake of the shooting, the website released a statement condemning the attack.

"Gab unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence," it read. "This has always been our policy."

What has been President Trump's reaction?

He described the gunman as a "maniac" and suggested the US should "stiffen up our laws of the death penalty".

"These people should pay the ultimate price. This has to stop," he said.

Mr Trump said he would visit Pittsburgh soon and had ordered US flags at government buildings to be flown at half-mast until 31 October.

He added that the shooting had "little to do" with US gun laws. "If they had protection inside, maybe it could have been a different situation."

Former US President Barack Obama voiced a different position on the ongoing gun law debate, tweeting: "We have to stop making it so easy for those who want to harm the innocent to get their hands on a gun."

What about other reaction?

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said in a statement that the incident was an "absolute tragedy" and that such acts of violence could not be accepted as "normal".

Pope Francis said after his Angelus prayer in Saint Peter's Square: "We are all, in truth, wounded by this inhuman act of violence."

Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish non-governmental organisation that fights anti-Semitism, said he was "devastated".

"We believe this is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States," he said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "heartbroken and appalled".

- BBC