Thousands of people jammed an intersection amid light rain for a vigil Saturday evening for the victims of a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue earlier in the day. The gathering included prayers and singing in memory of those killed and wounded.(Oct. 27)
The Jewish congregants were there to celebrate life, but were met by death. Most never had a chance.
Just before 10 a.m. Saturday, suspected gunman Robert Bowers, 46, burst into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and, yelling “All Jews must die,” killed 11 before himself being wounded and taken into custody.
The list of those killed Saturday included middle-aged brothers, an elderly husband and wife and a grandmother nearing 100.
Many of them were there for a naming ceremony, which marks the beginning of a baby’s journey in the Jewish faith. Others had gathered on this traditionally holy day, the sabbath, simply to worship, study and pray.
On Sunday, Pittsburgh chief medical examiner Karl Williams read the names of the dead. “The families are in shock and grieving, please be respectful of their needs, their time and space as they deal with this tragedy,” he said.
Those killed were Daniel Stein, 71, Joyce Fienberg, 75, Richard Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86, Melvin Wax, 88 and Irving Younger, 69.
The Rosenthal brothers, Cecil and David, were long-time members of the Tree of Life synagogue, according to J.E. Reich, who grew up in the neighborhood the brothers called home.
Reich said the brothers were developmentally disabled and lived together. Cecil Rosenthal loved to greet people at the door of the synagogue before services “not out of obligation, but out of joy,” said Reich, adding that her stepfather worshiped with the brothers.
Achieva, an area organization that helps the developmentally disabled, put out a statement Sunday that said both brothers had a deep love of community and life.
“If they were here, they would tell you that is where they were supposed to be,” said Chris Schopf, Achieva’s vice president of residential supports.
“Cecil’s laugh was infectious,” Schopf added. “David was so kind and had such a gentle spirit. Together, they looked out for one another. They were inseparable. Most of all, they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around.”
Stein, 71, was a member of the New Light Congregation, a conservative Jewish congregation that was one of three who shared space at the synagogue. A new grandfather, he attended services every Saturday and was an active supporter of the community, according to TribLive.
Fienberg was the wife of the late Stephen E. Fienberg, a professor of statistics and social science at Carnegie Mellon University, who died in 2016. They had two sons, Anthony Fienberg of Paris, and Howard Fienberg of Vienna, Virginia, and several grandchildren, according to her husband’s obituary.
Some reacted strongly on Twitter to the ages of the deceased.
“Way to rid the world of the scourge of people’s grandparents and great grandparents, you monster,” wrote musician E Marlowe, including a link to the list of those killed.
In addition to the 11 dead, six people were injured.
According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, they were a 61-year-old woman, a 55-year-old man, and a 27-year-old male police officer and a 40-year-old male SWAT officer. Another police officer was treated and released.
Paul Leger, 70, suffered gunshot sounds to his torso in the attack and underwent surgery at the UPMC Presbyterian hospital Saturday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Leger was a retired nurse and has worked as a chaplain at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center since 2016.
Leger had been scheduled to lead a Saturday morning service at the synagogue, where he was a member of the Dor Hadash congregation, a progressive Reconstructionist Jewish community, according to the Tribune-Review.
Family members, friends and members of the synagogue began replacing their Facebook profile photos with a Stronger Than Hate graphic, a play on the Pittsburgh Steelers football team logo in which the top-most of three four-pointed stars is replaced by the six-pointed Star of David.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto described Saturday’s shooting as the “darkest day in Pittsburgh’s history.”
Jeff Finkelstein, CEO of Pittsburgh’s Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said Sunday that “it’s real once you hear the names. (But) we’ll be there to help our Jewish community and the Pittsburgh region heal from this.”
The U.S. attorney’s office Saturday filed 29 charges against Bowers, whose online presence, while previously unknown to authorities, displayed extreme prejudice against those of the Jewish faith.
The charges include 11 counts of obstructing the exercising of religious beliefs resulting in death; 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence; four counts of obstructing the exercising of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer, and three counts of using and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.
Bowers remains hospitalized in stable condition with several gunshot wounds, officials said Sunday.
In July, Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers wrote a blog post for his congregation lamenting the escalation of gun violence across the country.
“Despite continuous calls for sensible gun control and mental health care, our elected leaders in Washington knew that it would fade away in time,” Myers wrote in a post titled We Deserve Better, which also referenced the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“Unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the mid-term elections, I fear that that the status quo will remain unchanged, and school shootings will resume, Myers wrote. “I shouldn’t have to include in my daily morning prayers that God should watch over my wife and daughter, both teachers, and keep them safe. Where are our leaders?”
This story is developing.
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