Did You Know
Did You Know
PITTSBURGH: A 97-year-old woman, an octogenarian couple, two brothers. Americans on Sunday (Oct 28) learned the identities of the 11 victims of the bloody assault on a Pittsburgh synagogue - a mostly elderly group and easy targets for a shooter who said he "wanted all Jews to die."
Nine of the 11 were 65 or older, several old enough to have been children during the rise of Nazism. They included Rose Mallinger, age 97, and couple Sylvan and Bernice Simon, both in their 80s.
Federal officials said on Sunday that 46-year-old suspect Robert Bowers - arrested at the Tree of Life synagogue after a firefight with police - faces 29 federal charges, many of them carrying the death penalty. He is to appear before a federal magistrate on Monday.
Across the country, prayer vigils and ecumenical services were held in tribute to the dead as words of solace and commiseration poured in from the US Jewish community - the largest outside Israel - but also from the pope and European leaders.
At a morning news conference, Allegheny County medical examiner Karl Williams described the grim work of identifying the dead with the help of grieving family members, supported by four rabbis working temporarily from his office.
"There's no words to express the sympathy that they need," Williams said.
The assault on the 150-year-old congregation was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history.
Jewish leaders suggested such an attack was not entirely unexpected, noting a sharp spike in anti-Semitic acts amid the harsh political discourse of recent years.
In Squirrel Hill, the close-knit neighbourhood and heart of Pittsburgh's Jewish community where the shooting occurred, a hush descended.
"Heartbroken," said Aylia Paulding, 37, her voice breaking as she summed up the grief-stricken mood.
'ALL THESE DEAD BODIES'
The authorities described a 20-minute rampage that began when the gunman burst into the building early on Saturday and opened fire with an assault-style AR-15 rifle and two Glock handguns.
Four police officers or SWAT team members were injured, one critically. Bowers has been hospitalised in fair condition with multiple gunshot wounds.
Ninety-year-old E. Joseph Charny was worshipping in a room with a half-dozen other congregants when he saw a man appear in the doorway and heard shots ring out, he told The Washington Post.
"I looked up and there were all these dead bodies," said Charny, a retired psychiatrist who has attended services at Tree of Life since 1955.
Charny and two others fled to a cramped storage room upstairs and hid until they thought it was safe to come out.
"I don't need to tell you how terrible this has all been," he said.
TRUMP AND GUN LAWS
President Donald Trump on Saturday solemnly denounced the attack, saying, "The scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be ignored, cannot be tolerated and cannot be allowed to continue."
Earlier, however, he said one answer to apparent hate crimes was to provide guards at places of worship, not to tighten gun laws.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto disagreed.
"The approach that we need to be looking at is how we take the guns, which is the common denominator of every mass shooting in America, out of the hands of those that are looking to express hatred through murder," he said at Sunday's news conference.
Trump said Saturday that he would travel to Pittsburgh to express his condolences.
But some victims' families reportedly have little desire to see a president blamed by many critics for fanning hatred.
"At least this family does not want to meet with him," Bill Cartiff, who was mourning with the family of victim Melvin Wax, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"He will be received very coldly ... We don't want him."
Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the Anti-Defamation League civil rights group that combats anti-Semitism - said he was encouraged by the president's words after Pittsburgh but also sounded a note of warning.
Anti-Semitic acts in the United States rose sharply in recent years, ADL figures show, by 34 per cent in 2016 over 2015, and by a further 57 per cent in 2016, "the single largest surge that we've ever seen" according to Greenblatt.
"It isn't what you say after the tragedy that only matters," he said. "It's the environment that you create with your rhetoric."
Saturday's attack came at a time of heightened tensions - a day after a Trump supporter from Florida was arrested for mailing explosive devices to Democrats and liberals, setting the country on edge ahead of close-fought elections on Nov 6.
Scott Brady, US attorney for Pennsylvania's Western District, told reporters he could not say how long the investigation might take, but added, "We will spare no effort or resource in ensuring that the defendant is held fully accountable for his unspeakable and hateful crimes."
Bowers lived in the Baldwin Borough suburb of Pittsburgh, less than half an hour's drive south of the Tree of Life synagogue.
He reportedly worked as a trucker, and has been linked to a rash of anti-Semitic online posts, notably on Gab.com, a site frequented by white nationalists, including one hours before the attack that called Jews "hostile invaders."
According to a criminal complaint filed Saturday, he told police he "wanted all Jews to die and that they (Jews) were committing genocide to his people."
Chris Hall, a 28-year-old neighbour who works at a catering company, described Bowers as utterly unremarkable - "just like a 50-yr-old dude" - usually clad in jeans, hoodie and jacket.
"He didn't have any bumper sticker that was like 'hey this is my world view,'" Hall said. "There was no clues. Nothing."