HOUSTON (FOX 26) - This week's panel: Jessica Colon - Republican strategist, Nyanza Moore - progressive commentator and Houston attorney, Vlad Davidiuk – Communication Chief, Harris Co. Republican Party, Tony Diaz- Chicano educator and activist, Tomaro Bell – Super Neighborhood leader, Bill King - businessman, columnist and former Kemah Mayor; react to Saturday's shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
PITTSBURGH (AP) - The suspect in the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue told officers that Jews were committing genocide and that he wanted them all to die, according to a charging document made public early Sunday.
Robert Gregory Bowers killed eight men and three women inside the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday during worship services before a tactical police team tracked him down and shot him, police said in the affidavit, which contained some previously unreported details on the shooting and the police response.
Calls began coming in to 911 from the synagogue just before 10 a.m. Saturday, reporting "they were being attacked," the document said. Bowers shot one of the first two officers to respond in the hand, and the other was wounded by "shrapnel and broken glass."
A tactical team found Bowers on the third floor, where he shot two officers multiple times, the affidavit said. One officer was described as critically wounded; the document did not describe the other officer's condition.
Two other people in the synagogue, a man and a woman, were wounded by Bowers and were in stable condition, the document said.
Bowers told an officer while he was being treated for his injuries "that he wanted all Jews to die and also that they (Jews) were committing genocide to his people," the affidavit said.
Bowers was charged late Saturday with 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation in what the leader of the Anti-Defamation League called the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
It wasn't clear whether Bowers had an attorney to speak on his behalf. Law enforcement officials planned to discuss the massacre at a news conference Sunday morning.
The nation's latest mass shooting drew condemnation and expressions of sympathy from politicians and religious leaders of all stripes. With the midterm election just over a week away, it also reignited a longstanding and bitter debate over guns.
Pope Francis led prayers for Pittsburgh on Sunday in St. Peter's Square.
"In reality, all of us are wounded by this inhuman act of violence," he said. He prayed for God "to help us to extinguish the flames of hatred that develop in our societies, reinforcing the sense of humanity, respect for life and civil and moral values."
President Donald Trump said the outcome might have been different if the synagogue "had some kind of protection" from an armed guard, while Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, up for re-election, noted that once again "dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm's way."
Calling the shooting an "evil anti-Semitic attack," Trump ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the U.S. to be flown at half-staff in respect for the victims. He said he planned to travel to Pittsburgh, but offered no details.
In the city, thousands gathered for a vigil Saturday night. Some blamed the slaughter on the nation's political climate.
"When you spew hate speech, people act on it. Very simple. And this is the result. A lot of people dead. Senselessly," said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light Congregation, which rents space at Tree of Life.
Little was known about Bowers, who had no apparent criminal record but who is believed to have expressed virulently anti-Semitic views on social media. Authorities said it appears he acted alone.
Worshippers "were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith," said Bob Jones, head of the FBI's Pittsburgh office, though he cautioned the shooter's full motive was not yet known.
Scott Brady, the chief federal prosecutor in western Pennsylvania, pledged that "justice in this case will be swift and it will be severe."
The gunman targeted a building that housed three separate congregations, all of which were conducting Sabbath services when the attack began just before 10 a.m. in the tree-lined residential neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and the hub of Pittsburgh's Jewish community.
The synagogue door was unlocked on the Sabbath "because people are coming for services, and the bell would be ringing constantly. So they do not lock the door, and anybody can just walk in," said Marilyn Honigsberg, administrative assistant for New Light. "And that's what this man did."
Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the Tree of Life, said synagogue officials had not gotten any threats that he knew of before the shooting. But security was a concern, he said, and the synagogue had started working to improve it.
Zachary Weiss, 26, said his father, 60-year-old Stephen Weiss, was inside the synagogue but was unharmed. Weiss said his father told him that he and Tree of Life's rabbi helped congregants take shelter and follow the active shooter response training they'd received months earlier. Stephen Weiss made it out of the building and used a janitor's cellphone to call his family at home.
The attack, his son vowed, "will not define our congregation and will not define our city."
MURPHYSBORO, Ill. (AP) - President Donald Trump mourned the dead and forcefully condemned anti-Semitism after a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead. But faced with another national tragedy, he did not long turn his focus away from the midterm elections or himself.
Nine days from elections that will determine the control of Congress, Trump stuck to his plans to appear at an agricultural convention and a political rally Saturday. Throughout the day, he expressed sorrow, called for justice and bemoaned hate, getting regular updates on the shooting. But he also campaigned for candidates, took shots at favorite Democratic targets House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren and made jokes about his hair.
At a massive rally in southern Illinois for U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, Trump condemned the shooting as an "evil anti-Semitic attack." But he said cancelling his appearance would make "sick, demented people important." He pledged to change his tone for the evening and did cool some of his most fiery rhetoric.
The slaughter at Sabbath services followed a tense week dominated by a mail bomb plot with apparent political motivations and served as another toxic reminder of a divided nation. It also again underscored Trump's reluctance to step into the role of national unifier at tense moments as well as his singular focus heading into elections that could dramatically change his presidency.
Trump acknowledged the weight these moments carry, telling reporters that experiencing such events as president, "it's a level of terribleness and horror that you can't even believe. It's hard to believe."
The White House said Trump was getting regular briefings on the attack. He spoke with the governor of Pennsylvania and the mayor of Pittsburgh. He also spoke with his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who are Jewish.
Shortly after returning to Washington late Saturday, Trump ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the country to be flown at half-staff until Oct. 31 in "solemn respect" for the victims.
Trump sought to energize turnout for Bost, who is fighting to hold on to a seat that was once a Democratic stronghold, but turned out for Trump in 2016. To bolster his argument for sticking with the rally, Trump argued that the New York Stock Exchange was opened the day after 9/11, though in fact it was re-opened on September 17.
Speaking to a massive, cheering crowd at an airport hangar in southern Illinois, Trump said "the hearts of all Americans are filled with grief, following the monstrous killing." He told reporters before the rally that he would travel to Pittsburgh, though he did not offer details. He also sought to distance himself from the man arrested in the shooting, calling him "sick" and saying "he was no supporter of mine."
Although his tone was softer, he still targeted Pelosi and Democrats and the crowd gleefully shouted "lock her up," in reference to Hillary Clinton, one of the targets of the bomb plot. And he continued to emphasize his hardline immigration rhetoric. "Republicans want strong borders, no crime, and no caravans," Trump said.
Trump's speech to a convention of the Future Farmers of America had all the hallmarks of a Trump rally, as the president riffed on trade, jobs and some of his political enemies. At one point he also joked about his hair. He said it was ruffled by the rain as he left Washington, adding "I said, 'maybe I should cancel this arrangement because I have a bad hair day."
Trump offered an unsparing denunciation of anti-Semitism, which he said was the motive behind the attack, in contrast to remarks after clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville last year. Then, he only inflamed tensions by blaming both sides for the violence.
Speaking to young farmers in Indianapolis, Trump called on the country to come together, before inviting a pastor and rabbi on stage to pray.
Earlier in the day, Trump speculated that the death toll in Pittsburgh would have been curbed if an armed guard had been in the building. With both the number of deaths and details of the synagogue's security still to be disclosed, Trump said gun control "has little to do with it" but "if they had protection inside, the results would have been far better."
But the attack did not persuade him that tighter gun controls are needed.
"This is a case where, if they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately," Trump said. "Maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him, frankly. So it's a very, very - a very difficult situation."
In previous mass shootings, Trump has at times said he would consider tightening gun laws but in the main has called for more armed guards in places such as schools.
"The world is a violent world," he said before his speech. "And you think when you're over it, it just sort of goes away, but then it comes back in the form of a madman, a wacko. ... They had a maniac walk in and they didn't have any protection and that is just so sad to see, so sad to see."
Trump said lawmakers "should very much bring the death penalty into vogue" and people who kill in places such as synagogues and churches "really should suffer the ultimate price."
PITTSBURGH (AP) - A gunman who's believed to have spewed anti-Semitic slurs and rhetoric on social media barged into a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday and opened fire, killing 11 people in one of the deadliest attacks on Jews in U.S. history.
The 20-minute attack at Tree of Life Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood left six others wounded, including four police officers who dashed to the scene, authorities said.
The suspect, Robert Bowers, traded gunfire with police and was shot several times. Bowers, who was in fair condition at a hospital, was charged late Saturday with 29 federal counts, including hate crimes and weapons offenses. It wasn't immediately known if Bowers had an attorney to speak on his behalf.
"Please know that justice in this case will be swift and it will be severe," Scott Brady, the chief federal prosecutor in western Pennsylvania, said at a news conference, characterizing the slaughter as a "terrible and unspeakable act of hate."
The mass shooting came amid a rash of high-profile attacks in an increasingly divided country, one day after a Florida man was arrested and charged with mailing a series of pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and little more than a week before the midterm elections.
The killings also immediately reignited the longstanding national debate about guns: President Donald Trump said the outcome might have been different if the synagogue "had some kind of protection" from an armed guard, while Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf noted that once again "dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm's way."
Trump ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the U.S. to be flown at half-staff in "solemn respect" for the shooting victims. He said he planned to travel to Pittsburgh, but offered no details.
Authorities say that just before 10 a.m., Bower entered the large synagogue with an assault-style rifle and three handguns. Three separate congregations were conducting Sabbath services in different areas of the large building, according to Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the Tree of Life. The Pennsylvania attorney general's office said it was told by victims that a brit milah - a ritual circumcision ceremony at which a baby boy also receives his Hebrew name - was also taking place, though law enforcement officials later said no children were among the dead or wounded.
"It is a very horrific crime scene," said a visibly moved Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director. "It's one of the worst that I've seen."
The survivors included Daniel Leger, 70, a nurse and hospital chaplain who was in critical condition after undergoing surgery, his brother, Paul Leger, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Daniel Leger was scheduled to lead a service Saturday morning, he said.
The mass shooting raised immediate alarm in Jewish communities around the country. Authorities in New York City, Chicago and elsewhere increased security at Jewish centers.
Bob Jones, head of the FBI's Pittsburgh office, said that worshippers "were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith," though he cautioned the shooter's full motive was not yet known.
Bowers, who had no apparent criminal record, expressed virulently anti-Semitic views on a social media site called Gab, according to an Associated Press review of an archived version of the posts made under his name. The cover photo for his account featured a neo-Nazi symbol, and his recent posts included a photo of a fiery oven like those used in Nazi concentration camps used to cremate Jews during World War II.
Other posts referenced false conspiracy theories suggesting the Holocaust - in which an estimated 6 million Jews perished - was a hoax. He wrote of a Jewish "infestation," using a slur for Jews.
Gab confirmed Bowers had a profile on its website, which is popular with far-right extremists.
Before the shooting, the poster believed to be Bowers also wrote 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."
HIAS is a nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom. The organization says it is guided by Jewish values and history.
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, said the group believes Saturday's attack was the deadliest on the Jewish community in U.S. history.
"Our hearts break for the families of those killed and injured at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and for the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh," Greenblatt said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "heartbroken and appalled" by the attack.
"The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead," Netanyahu said. "We stand together with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. We stand together with the American people in the face of this horrendous anti-Semitic brutality. And we all pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded."
Thousands of people, some holding candles, gathered for a vigil in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Saturday night in honor of the victims, whose names were not immediately released. A chant of "vote, vote, vote" broke out during the emotional gathering. Some attendees blamed the shooting on the nation's political climate, and said they took little solace in the planned visit by Trump.
At a political rally in Murphysboro, Illinois, Trump said "the evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us."
The president - who, at times, has been accused by critics of failing to adequately condemn hate, such as when he blamed "both sides" for the violence at a Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist rally in 2017 - said that anti-Semitism must be "confronted and condemned everywhere it rears it very ugly head." He called for the imposition of the death penalty for "crimes like this."
The synagogue is located in the tree-lined residential neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and the hub of Pittsburgh's Jewish community. The facade of the fortress-like concrete building is punctuated by rows of swirling, modernistic stained-glass windows illustrating the story of creation, the acceptance of God's law, the "life cycle" and "how human-beings should care for the earth and one another," according to its website. Among its treasures is a "Holocaust Torah," rescued from Czechoslovakia.
Its sanctuary can hold up to 1,250 people.
Eisenberg, the former synagogue president, said officials at Tree of Life had not gotten any threats that he knew of before the shooting. But he said security was a concern, and the synagogue had started working to improve it.
Chuck Diamond, a former rabbi at the synagogue who retired more than a year ago, said the building is locked during the week, and is outfitted with security cameras. "But on Sabbath it's an open door," he said.
"You know, you're always worried that something would happen," said Myron Snider, head of the cemetery committee for New Light Congregation, which meets at Tree of Life. Snider just got out of the hospital on Thursday and missed Saturday's service.
"But you never dream that it would happen like this," Snider added. "Just never ever dream that it would happen like this."
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo in Washington, Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia, Gene Puskar in Pittsburgh, Marc Levy in Harrisburg and Allen G. Breed in Raleigh, N.C., and Michael Kunzelman in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report.