By Malena Aylwin ’22
A mass shooting occurred in Pittsburgh on the morning of October 27, 2018. While Shabbat morning services were being held at the Tree of Life Synagogue, 11 individuals were shot to death, and seven were injured.
The victims included Irving Younger, Melvin Wax, Rose Mallinger, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Jerry Rabinowitz, Joyce Feinburg, Richard Gottfried, Daniel Stein, and Cecil and David Rosenthal.
At 9:50 a.m., a shooter described as a “hairy, heavy-set white male“ entered the building and supposedly yelled, “All Jews must die!“ before opening fire and “shooting for around 20 minutes.“ He was equipped with four self-loading rifles, each of which he discharged, as indicated by experts.
An individual from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh told correspondents that somewhere in the range of 60 and 100 individuals were inside the synagogue attending Shabbat morning services.
Some minutes later, police started receiving calls from individuals inside the building regarding the assault.
A couple of minutes after, the police arrived at the synagogue. The shooter started firing towards the police from the synagogue, injuring two officers. Officers and an investigator returned the shots, making the shooter withdraw into the building.
A SWAT group entered the building and was again shot at by the shooter. Officers returned fire and injured him, driving him to withdraw to a room on the third floor of the synagogue. In the trading of gunfire, two SWAT individuals were injured, one critically.
Nevertheless, after an hour or so, the shooter stepped out of the room where he was hiding and surrendered.
As he got medical help in police care, he supposedly told a SWAT officer that he needed “all Jews to die“ and that Jewish people were committing genocide to his people.
The 46-year-old suspect has been identified as Robert Bowers. He attended a local Pennsylvania school which he later dropped out of and started working as a truck driver. A man thought to have been Bowers’ dad killed himself when Bowers was around six years old. Bowers was reported to have been involved in far-right websites such as “Gab” and had promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online through social media.
In the weeks prior to the shooting, Bowers made anti-Semitic posts directed toward the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). He asserted that Jewish people were helping Central American troops move individuals towards the United States border and alluded to individuals from those trains as “invaders.“
Shortly before the assault, in a clear reference to immigrants of the United States, Bowers posted on Gab that, “HIAS 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.“
Bowers was charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with 29 federal crimes and 36 state criminal counts.
Acts of anti-Semitism have increased exponentially in recent years. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that anti-Semitic incidents increased nearly 60 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. The U.S. Jewish community has expressed heightened concerns about this.
We may never be able to change the psyches of individuals who send pipe bombs or enter a sanctuary with weapons blasting. Be that as it may, we can prevent them from influencing others.
One lesson the U.S. can learn from this act of violence is anti-Semitism is an on-going issue in today’s world, and should be taken more seriously not only around the world, but in our own country as well.