Blue light shines in Pittsburgh as tribute to synagogue shooting victims

Posted at 7:17 AM, Oct 30, 2018

The collective mourning of a community shaken by a brazen act of violence in a synagogue will continue Tuesday as funerals are held for three of the victims of what the Anti-Defamation League said was the deadliest attack against Jews in US history.

On Monday night, blue light washed over the night sky as buildings across Pittsburgh were illuminated in tribute to the 11 worshippers killed Saturday when a gunman stormed the Tree of Life synagogue there.

The close-knit community of Squirrel Hill, where the shootings took place, will first bid farewell to brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal and Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, according to CNN affiliate WTAE.

The funerals coincide with a visit from President Donald Trump, who will travel to Pittsburgh Tuesday despite a request from the city's mayor to hold off on visiting.


'We are not going anywhere'


Eleven people died and six were injured when a gunman began firing in the synagogue as three congregations were gathered to celebrate Shabbat services. Robert Bowers, whom authorities believe acted alone, faces 29 federal charges, some of which are punishable by death.

The shooting has struck at the heart of Pittsburgh's historically Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood and reverberated across the state, where residents are banding together to both comfort one another and stare down hatred.



"Tomorrow we begin the funerals for our 11 neighbors who were stolen from us. Tomorrow we continue to mourn their loss," Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted Monday night. "We continue to help their families & those that were wounded. We reach out to our Jewish community to share love, compassion & empathy."

The Pennsylvania state capitol, in Harrisburg, also was bathed in a single blue light on Monday, as the governor attended a "Vigil Against Hate."

"All of Pennsylvania stands with the victims and their families," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted Monday night. "We join the Pittsburgh Jewish community and Jewish Americans across our nation in mourning."

Online, mourners have rallied behind the hashtag #strongerthanhate.

The outpouring of support has extended to first responders. Those injured in the shooting included police officers, two of whom remain hospitalized.

The walls of the Zone 4 police station, a few blocks from the Tree of Life synagogue, were covered in handwritten notes from residents after the shooting, the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department said in a series of Twitter posts Monday. People also came by to "deliver food and hugs for the officers" the department said.

More than 500 people from different faiths, races, backgrounds and communities gathered to memorialize the victims Monday at the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg, a community about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, CNN affiliate KDKA reported. It was one of several such vigils held across the country in the shooting's aftermath.

Carlotta Paige, co-chair of the Westmoreland County Diversity Coalition called on people to "work together to make our differences, our strengths and promote love, dignity and respect."

Sports fans will share a moment of silence for the victims on Tuesday when the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the New York Islanders at the PPG Paints Arena. The hockey team will also hold a collection at the game to benefit victims and victims' families.

At the tragedy's epicenter, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said his congregants would be unbowed. A GoFundMe page set up to raise money for the synagogue had raised $802,958 of its $1 million goal by Tuesday morning.

"We are Tree of Life and, as I said before to many, you can cut off some of the branches from our tree, but Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years. We're not going anywhere," Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was leading services at Tree of Life Saturday said Monday on CNN's New Day. "We will be back stronger and better than ever."


President's visit to met with reservation


Myers also told CNN that he welcomes a visit from President Trump on Tuesday.

"The President of the United States is always welcome," Myers said. "I'm a citizen. He's my president. He is certainly welcome."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday that first lady Melania Trump will join the President in Pittsburgh. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will accompany them, CNN has learned.

Sanders said the President wants to travel to Pittsburgh to show support.

His visit has been criticized in some circles. A group of Jewish activists in Pittsburgh told the President in an open letter that his words and policies over the past three years "have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement," and that he is not welcome until he "fully (denounces) white nationalism."

Mayor Peduto told Anderson Cooper Monday that he would rather the President visit after the victims' funerals.

"I do believe that it would be best to put the attention on the families this week and if he were to visit choose a different time to be able to do it," Peduto said. "Our focus as a city will be on the families and the outreach they will need this week and the support they'll need to get through it."

Former Tree of Life Rabbi Chuck Diamond told CNN's Don Lemon he agrees with Pittsburgh's mayor.

"I would just ask the President please, please if it's not too late put it off a week," Diamond said. "Any president that would come in, any president would be a distraction. And President Trump, he's so divisive and there's such strong feelings on all sides, it will be a distraction. And that upsets me the most because the focus has to be on the victims and has to be on comforting the family. And also the city, the city needs time to grieve."


Suspected shooter appears in court


Bowers, the suspected gunman, made his first appearance in court Monday.

He faces at least 29 federal charges, including 11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, plus 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder. A conviction on any could be punishable by death, US Attorney Scott Brady said.

Brady has initiated the process to seek the death penalty, though Attorney General Jeff Sessions must ultimately give the OK to pursue the death penalty for the alleged gunman, the Justice Department said.

Bowers was detained without bond and his next court date is Thursday.

In an address on Monday in Boston, Sessions labeled the assault a "murderous rampage."

"This was not just an attack on the Jewish faith," he said. "It was attack on all people of faith, and it was an attack on America's values of protecting those of faith. It cannot, it will not, be tolerated."

Weeks before the shooting, Bowers posted anti-Semitic slurs, complained that President Donald Trump was surrounded by too many Jewish people and blamed Jews for helping migrant caravans in Central America on the social media platform known as Gab.

Bowers also posted pictures of his handgun collection. Bowers has 21 guns registered to his name, said US Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat whose district includes Squirrel Hill. Police said Bowers used a Colt AR-15 rifle and three Glock .357 handguns during the attack. He legally purchased the three Glock .357s, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told CNN. It's not clear whether the AR-15 was purchased legally.

Hours before the shooting, Bowers posted about Trump. Minutes before allegedly storming inside the building, he logged onto Gab again and wrote to his followers.

"I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered," he wrote. "Screw your optics, I'm going in."

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