Gunman who killed 11 at US synagogue charged with murder

‘Bearded heavy-set white male’ in custody and facing 29 criminal accounts

Audio released by police captures the tense moments as law enforcement responded to a gunman who stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people. Video: Broadcastify/CCTV/Reuters

 

A 46 year-old man suspected of killing 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday has been charged with multiple counts of murder, as the United States reeled from the deadliest act of violence against Jews in US history.

A gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Pennsylvania city on Saturday morning where services for three separate congregations were under way, including a baby-naming service.

Using an AR 15-style assault rifle and armed with hand guns he shot dead 11 people in several minutes. He was reportedly shouting anti-Semitic slogans incoluding during the attack.

He was confronted by police as he fled the building. A shoot-out ensued during which four police officers were injured. The suspect also sustained injuries, was arrested by police and brought to a nearby hospital.

The suspect, Robert Bowers (46) was later charged with 29 criminal accounts, including use of a firearm to commit murder and obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs. He is likely to face the death penalty if found guilty.

The suspect, who lives in Pittsburgh, had no criminal history and was not known to police, authorities said.

However, it appeared that he railed against Jews on social media and posted white supremacist comments.

A social media account under the name of Robert Bowers was deactivated on Saturday afternoon.

Officials named the victims of the attack on Sunday.

They included a 97-year-old woman, a husband and wife, and two brothers. The synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of the city is the fulcrum of the city’s tight-knit Jewish community. The mayor of Pittsburgh Bill Peduto called the attack “the darkest day of Pittsburgh’s history.”

Police rapid response team members respond to a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Photograph: Getty
Police rapid response team members respond to a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Photograph: Getty

In a post shortly before the attack the man wrote: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Three men and eight women were killed in the attack which is one of the worst mass shootings in Pennsylvania’s history. No children were among the dead police said.Six people were injured, including the police officers.

Leaving for a rally in Illinois on Saturday night US president Donald Trump described the attack as a “horrible, horrible thing.”

“We’re learning a lot about it. It looks definitely like it’s an anti-Semitic crime. And that is something you wouldn’t believe could still be going on. But it would seem to be an anti-Semitic crime.”

Asked if America’s gun laws were partly to blame for the tragedy, Mr Trump said they had “little to do with it.” Instead, he said: “if there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him. Maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him.”

Describing the attacker as a “mad man, a whacko”, he said: “one thing we should [DO]is stiffen up our laws in terms of the death penalty. When people do this, they should get the death penalty, and they shouldn’t have to wait years and years.”

Mr Trump, who faced calls from some quarters to cancel the rally, did raise the Pittsburgh attack as he addressed the crowd.

“This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us. It’s an assault on humanity. It will require all of us working together to extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism from our world,” he said.

But he quickly returned to many of his campaign themes, denouncing Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, prompting chants of “Lock Her Up.”

Mr Trump was in Indiana to help the campaign of Republican Congressman Mike Bost who is locked in a tight election race.

Asked by reporters for his response to the fact that the suspect had indicated his support for president Trump in social media posts, Mr Trump said: “he was no supporter of mine.”

The synagogue attack was the latest manifestation of violence that has shocked the United States in the run-up to what has already been a tense mid-term election campaign.

The Pittsburgh attack has also refocused attention on the United States’ gun laws. It is the worst mass shooting since the February school shooting in Parkland Florida which left 17 students and teachers dead after a former student opened fire.

Separately, on Friday, police arrested 56 year-old Cesar Sayoc, who has been accused of sending at least 13 explosive packages to several senior figures from the Democratic party and the entertainment world last week.

Mr Sayoc, who lived in a white van adorned with pro-trump paraphernalia and had attended Trump rallies, was tracked down by the FBI through DNA evidence.

The victims

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