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Pittsburgh Synagogue Mass Shooting

By Gary F. Zeolla

      In my home area of Pittsburgh, PA, Jewish worshippers were attending Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The building houses three Jewish congregations: Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light, so three services were occurring at the same time. One of them included a bris, the Jewish ritual in which a male infant is circumcised at eight-days old and given a Jewish name. This is what the media is somewhat wrongly referring to as a “baby naming ceremony.”

      The services began at 9:45 am. At 9:54 am, the first call to 911 occurred. That call came from one of the worshippers, who said he had not been carrying his cell phone on the Sabbath as is normal for Jews, but a friend recently encouraged him to do so in case of emergency.

      One minute after the 911 call, the Pittsburgh police began heading for the synagogue, followed closely by Pittsburgh SWAT. Two police officers entered the building and began searching for the gunman and survivors. They found two survivors hiding in the basement and escorted them out.

      In doing so, they must have scared the cowardly scumbag, as he tried to flee the building. But he was confronted by two more officers. An exchange of gunfire ensured, and one of the officers was shot and the other was injured by shrapnel.

      The coward then retreated back into the building and up to the third floor. He was pursued by two SWAT officers. Another shootout ensued, in which both officers were shot multiple times, with the gunman also being hit multiple times. Additional officers then entered the building, pulled the injured officers to safety and negotiated a surrender with the scumbag. He was then taken into custody. None of the injured officers died, neither did the gunman, but eleven worshippers were killed, and two additional ones were injured.

      On a small good note, no children were injured or killed. But showing what a despicable coward the alleged shooter is, most of the injured and killed worshippers were senior citizens, ranging in age from 54-97, including a pair of brothers and a married couple. The names of the eleven dead are:

 

 

      The 97-year-old woman lived through the Holocaust. She survives that hatred-inspired horrific event, only to be killed in another one. She was said to be “full of life” and to have “many years left.”

      Jerry Rabinowitz was doctor, who was planned on retiring soon. He had found a place of safety but left it to tend to the injured, and then got shot himself. Bernice and Sylvan Simon were married in this very same building sixty-two years ago, only to die together in it. And on it goes, one heartbreaking story after another.

      A total of six officers were injured and two worshippers, plus the alleged shooter. They were taken to three area hospitals, the victims to the two UPMC hospitals in Pittsburgh and the scumbag to Allegheny General Hospital (AGH). One of the officers and one of worshippers were injured critically. The wounded and dead had one to several gunshot wounds each.

      The alleged shooter was carrying an AR-15 and three Glock .375 handguns. It has not been reported if he was carrying any extra ammunition, but those four weapons can carry an estimated 50-60 rounds, while it has been estimated that about 100 people were in the synagogue. What that means is, if it were not for the heroic actions of Pittsburgh police and SWAT, the number of casualties might have been far greater.

      It also helped that just five years ago, Pittsburgh formed a team of five “tactical doctors.” They had been trained to treat wounded in an active shooter situation, and that training proved fruitful, as they went into the building and began treating the wounded while SWAT was still pursuing the shooter. Their brave actions probably saved more lives.

      “The FBI special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh office, Bob Jones, said that it was the most ‘horrific crime scene’ he’s witnessed in his 22-year career with the bureau” (Fox News; Pittsburgh). Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life said the sanctuary is unusable, as it is riddled with hundreds of bullet holes.

      The alleged shooter was later identified as Robert Bowers, 46, a Pittsburgh resident. It was reported that he had no criminal history in Pennsylvania, though it has been reported that police had to talk him out of a suicide attempt back in 2005. He “agreed to voluntarily commit himself to a mental health clinic, but never followed through” (CBS Pittsburgh. Troubling). It has also been reported that he had financial problems.

      The FBI has called this a “hate crime” and has taken the lead in the investigation. The Anti-Defamation League came out with a statement saying, “We believe this is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States” (ADL).

      US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that if found guilty, the alleged shooter will be facing the death penalty, as he should, “The one shedding [the] blood of a person, in place of that blood will his be shed, for in [the] image of God I made humanity” (Genesis 9:6; ALT).

      After this day of heartbreak and mourning, an interfaith service was held at a nearby Presbyterian church at 6:00 pm. Then the streets were flooded with hundreds to thousands of Pittsburghers, joining together for a vigil and candlelight service, despite a steady rain and mid-40s temperatures.

      There was a moment of silence before the Pitt Panther football game on Saturday and the Pittsburgh Steelers game on Sunday. During the Steelers game, many fans held up signs in support of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, such as a sign that simply had a Star of David with the word Shalom (“peace”). But my favorite was a sign that read, “Hatred can’t weaken a City of Steel.”

      Another vigil was held on Sunday at 5:00 at Pittsburgh’s Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, timed of course to start after the Steelers game ended. There were 2,500 people seated inside, and another 1,500 standing outside in the cold and rain.

      A call for blood donations brought out lines of Pittsburghers waiting to give blood on Saturday and Sunday. Then on Monday morning, the Pittsburgh Penguins held a blood drive at PPG Paints Arena where they play, and all the drawing stations were packed.

      Then Tuesday night before their first home game since the massacre, the Pens held a 11 second moment of silence, one second for each victim. Money was collected for the victims. With the Pens contributing $50,000, the total collected came to $250,000.

      A makeshift memorial was set up outside of the synagogue, consisting of a wooden Star of David for each victim, with his or her name printed on it. A steady flow of people throughout the weekend and the following week visited the memorial and laid flowers before the Stars.

      Funerals were scheduled for Tuesday through Friday of the following week. The first was for the Rosenthal brothers, Cecil and David. they were so beloved that the funeral was packed, with several Steelers, past and present, in attendance, from Franco Harris to Ben Roethlisberger. Even Ryan Shazier, who suffered his own tragedy a year ago, was in attendance.

      Through all of these events, all of Pittsburgh came together to support the injured, the families of the dead, and our Jewish community. But sadly, that unity did not last long, as the tragedy was quickly politicized.

      But before getting to that, may the reader join me in praying for the City of Pittsburgh, the injured, and the families of the dead. But most of all, pray for those who survived this horrific event and for the first responders. From the descriptions, a horrifying bloodbath occurred inside of that synagogue, that I am sure they will never be able to forget.

      The preceding are the basic details on this tragedy that has brought the terrible wave of mass shooting seen across the country to close to my home. I did not know any of the dead or wounded, but being so close to my home, this mass shooting has affected me more than previous ones, and it was hard to hold back tears as I wrote the preceding section. But now for the controversial stuff....

 

Notes:

    The preceding is excerpted from a book I am working on. It was originally going to be about the Kavanaugh proceedings, but it has morphed into being more about the political unrest being seen in the USA today. I will be addressing this tragedy and the resultant political dispute in one or two chapters of the book.

      Also, it is my practice in my writings about terroristic events, mass shootings, and other such incidents to not name the suspected perpetrators or to only give their name once and never again. That is because I do not want to give them the fame they are seeking. Instead, I refer to them as the alleged perpetrator, the alleged shooter, or the suspect. Of course, once they are found or plead guilty, then I will drop the “alleged” part and just call them the perpetrator or the shooter. Or I might use derogatory terms like “scumbag” that are fitting for a person who commits such heinous acts.

Bibliography:

    The above details were taken from many sources that will be referenced in my forthcoming book. But the exact quotes are from:.

      ADL. ADL Statement on Synagogue Shooting in Pittsburgh.

      Analytical-Literal Translation of the Old Testament: Volume I: The Torah. Copyright 2012 by Gary F. Zeolla (www.Zeolla.org).

      CBS Pittsburgh. Troubling Details Uncovered In Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Suspect’s Past.

      CBS Pittsburgh. ‘Just Stop The Hate’: Thousands Flock To Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall For Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Vigil.

      CBS Pittsburgh. Victims In Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Identified.

      Fox News. Pittsburgh synagogue shooting leaves 11 dead and 6 wounded; suspect hit with multiple charges.

 

Pittsburgh Synagogue Mass Shooting. Copyright 2018 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).

The book excerpt originally appeared in Darkness to Light newsletter.
It was posted on this website November 1, 2018.

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