By Gianna Cecccarelli
Pittsburgh’s “Darkest Day” The morning of Saturday, October 27 began like any other in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Members of the Tree of Life Congregation woke up early to attend Sabbath services in the quiet neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. Squirrel Hill resident Jim Waite had just finished his routine morning shower when he heard loud pops and a crash. Assuming there had been a car accident, Waite went outside to inspect the scene to find a police car racing up to the synagogue accompanied by several louder pops. He then ran back into the house with a “gut-wrenching kind of panic,” to take cover with his daughter.
It was around 9:50 when Robert Bowers opened fire on the synagogue. The assailant came in with an assault-style rifle and three handguns and fatally shot 11 innocent worshipers, as well as, wounding six more. When the police arrived, Bowers engaged in a firefight with the officers, injuring four officers. He was reportedly yelling, “They’re committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews,” as stated in the Department of Justice’s charging documents. Bowers has been charged with 29 criminal counts including obstructing free exercise of religious beliefs and 22 murder charges, all crimes punishable by death in the state of Pennsylvania. The Anti-Defamation League has announced that the attack was, “the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.” It is also the third mass shooting in a house of worship within the last three years.
This attack follows right on the heels of a separate hate crime in which a Florida native was arrested for sending at least 14 pipe bombs to Trump critics and well-known Democrats including, fellow 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, and actor Robert DeNiro, whose speech at the 2018 Tony Awards sparked outrage amongst Trump supporters.
Despite the attack being deemed, “the darkest day of Pittsburgh’s history,” by Mayor Bill Peduto, the surrounding community is rallying to remember the lives of those lost. Just hours after the attack, hundreds of people gathered to hold interfaith vigils to both pray for those wounded, as well as, mourn those that were lost. Peduto is optimistic that both the community and the nation can come together after the attack. He commented, “We know that we as a society are better than this. We know that hatred will never win out, that those that try to divide us because of the way we pray, or where our families are from around the world, will lose.”
However, President Trump had a very different message from that of the mayor’s. Trump commented that the while the attack was a “terrible, terrible thing,” if the synagogue had, “some kind of protection,” then “it could have been a different story,” and that if there was “an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him.” His stance remains consistent with his previous idea of providing, “rigorous gun training,” for schoolteachers, allowing them to keep a firearm on them in the classroom. This measure was proposed after the fatal school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida back in February 2018.
Peduto responded to Trump’s comments by saying, “We shouldn’t be trying to find ways to minimize the dangers that occur from irrational behavior. We should be working to eliminate irrational behavior and the empowerment of people who would seek to cause this type of carnage from continuing.” Peduto also commented that America needs to focus on taking guns, “out of the hands of those that are looking to express hatred through murder.”