Photo courtesy of The White House / Flickr

Shooting at Synagogue Draws Outrage and Fear Across the Nation

Eleven people were killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in late October after an assailant stormed into the temple and went on a shooting rampage, which has been called one of the deadliest attacks on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

The gunman fired into the temple during morning Shabbat services, killing 11 with an AR-15 and semi-automatic pistol while yelling anti-semitic slurs. Around 75 people were in the building at the time.

After meeting officers at the door of the temple, the gunman exchanged fire with them before surrendering. The suspect, who was injured during his encounter with law enforcement, has been identified as Robert D. Bowers. He was transported to Allegheny General Hospital, where he was treated by Jewish medical professionals.

Ari Mahler, a Jewish nurse that treated Bowers, said that he “wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Love as an action is more powerful than words.”

Bowers, who has no previous criminal history, was charged with 29 criminal counts, including criminal homicide, aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation, and obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs. He was reported to have little interaction with others and often promoted anti-semitic statements on social media, where he shared photos of his handguns. He also made racist statements regarding Black individuals and spoke out against interracial marriage.

The victims spanned in age from 54 to 97. Rose Mallinger, a 97-year-old grandmother of five, was killed in the shooting, while her daughter was wounded.

The shooting caused many reactions within the political community. President Donald Trump told reporters that the shooting was a tragedy that could have been prevented.

“If there was an armed guard inside the temple,” President Trump said, “they would have been able to stop him.”

“When people do this, they should get the death penalty,” according to President Trump, “they should be suffering the ultimate price, they should pay the ultimate price.”

Critics say that President Trump’s rhetoric may be connected to the recent increase in discriminatory attacks.

Cecilia Wang, Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said “The numerous statements he [President Trump] has made, calling himself a ‘nationalist,’ crowds at his rallies chanting threats against George Soros—it’s all connected.”

White House representatives have denied that President Trump’s rhetoric is connected to any attacks.

Shortly after the shooting, President Trump, accompanied by the First Lady and White House advisors Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, visited the Tree of Life Synagogue. He was met with protestors, who shouted “Trump loves Nazis” and “Trump go home.”

Mayor Bill Peduto had previously asked White House officials to hold off a presidential visit until after the funerals for the victims were held.

“I can’t tell a president not to come,” said Peduto, “but I can try to coordinate what becomes our priorities, which are the families and the officers.”

Peduto has rejected Trump’s idea of armed guards being stationed at houses of worship, stating that his goal is to take weapons out of the hands of those who do harm.

The victims have garnered nationwide support in the wake of the attack. The Pittsburgh Penguins have donated nearly $350,000 to representatives of the Synagogue and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. The Carolina Panthers also delivered flowers to the synagogue before their game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On campus, the Boston College Hillel hosted a memorial to remember the victims of the shooting. During the memorial, which was hosted at the Multi-Faith Chapel, mourners were able to light candles and say the Mourner's Kaddish.  

Bowers is currently being held at the Butler County Jail without bond. Appearing before a judge in a wheelchair, he pled not guilty to all charges against him. He requested a jury trial, which experts say could last three to four weeks. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.

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