A police officer on motorcycle passes through a roadblock as he responds after a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh
By John Altdorfer
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - A gunman man yelling, “All Jews must die,” stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue during Saturday services and shot worshipers, killing at least eight and wounding six including four police officers before he was arrested, local authorities and media said.
"It's a very horrific crime scene, one of the worst that I've seen, and I've been on some plane crashes," Pittsburgh public safety director Wendell Hissrich told a news conference near the scene.
"This falls under hate crime," he said, adding there was no active threat to the community and that the shooter had been taken to a hospital. The Federal Bureau of Investigation will lead the probe into the attack.
A "bearded heavy-set white male" was in custody, KDKA television said, citing police sources saying the gunman walked into the building and yelled “All Jews must die.”
A federal law enforcement official told Reuters that at least 8 people were killed.
The shooting triggered security alerts at houses of worship around the country, and follows a spate of pipe bombs found mailed in recent days to prominent political figures, mostly Democrats including former President Barack Obama.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said it was treating multiple patients at UPMC Presbyterian.
CNN and MSNBC identified the suspect as a 46-year-old Pittsburgh man, Robert Bowers. Reuters could not immediately confirm the suspect's identity.
A social media post by someone with that name on Saturday said 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.”
MSNBC said the attacker was armed with AR-15 rifle and two handguns.
Police surrounded the Tree of Life synagogue in the city's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, a heavily Jewish area.
The synagogue was holding a Shabbat religious service at the time. Police are normally only present at the synagogue for security on high holidays, Michael Eisenberg, former president of the synagogue, told KDKA.
"On a day like today, the door is open, it’s a religious service, you can walk in and out," he said.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defemation League, called the shooting an "anti-Semitic attack." Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was heartbroken by the Pittsburgh shooting, describing the attack as "horrendous anti-Semitic brutality."
Around the time of the shooting, three congregations would be using the building, Eisenberg said. The Tree of Life congregation would have about 40 people present, another group meeting for Sabbath services in the basement would have 30 to 40 people and a third Jewish congregation meeting for a study session would have about 15 people. A common atrium area would be busy with people milling around, he added.
Most of the congregants were older people, according to a former rabbi interviewed by local media.
Shortly after reports of the shooting emerged, U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet he was watching what he described as a "devastating" situation.
Trump told reporters later in the morning the killings might have been prevented if there had been an armed guard in the building.
“If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple maybe it could have been a much more different situation, they didn’t," he said when asked about a possible link to U.S. gun laws.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Jarrett Renshaw in New York and Mark Hosenball, David Brunnstrom and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Writing by Nick Zieminski; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Chizu Nomiyama)