A former FBI agent who leads Pittsburgh’s department of public safety has called the scene of the synagogue shooting ‘one of the worst that I’ve seen’.
A visibly moved Wendell Hissrich, Pittsburgh’s Public Safety Director, called it ‘a very horrific crime scene’ and said it is one of the worst he has seen, including some plane crashes.
Hissrich says there is no active threat to this community now that the shooter has been taken into custody.
City officials say the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh is being investigated as a federal hate crime.
Wendell Hissrich (center), Pittsburgh’s Public Safety Director, called it ‘a very horrific crime scene’ and said it is one of the worst he has seen, including some plane crashes
People gather on a corner near the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where a shooter opened fire on Saturday
Meanwhile, witnesses and family of survivors have spoken out about their terror as a gunman massacred congregants at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The shooting occurred at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh shortly before 10am on Friday. The suspect, who has been identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers, is in custody.
At around 9.30am, burst through the synagogue’s doors and opened fire on the congregation on the main floor where around 40 to 50 people had gathered for a Sabbath service. Witnesses said he shouted ‘all Jews must die!’ while firing on the congregation.
A mother who identified herself as Jennifer said that her daughter had been trapped inside the synagogue when the shooting began.
‘They heard the shots and they all, her friend’s mom and dad and son, they just all ran downstairs I guess and barricaded themselves in the basement,’ she told television reporters.
Residents talk to the media near the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood
Polikce respond to an active shooter situation at the Tree of Life synagogue on Wildins Avenue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday
‘They kept hearing gunfire and everything else,’ she said. Jennifer said her daughter had survived and was safe with police at the time of the interview.
After killing three people on the main floor, the gunman went downstairs, where a second congregation was gathering in the basement, and opened fire there.
He murdered four people there then fled upstairs where, on the third floor, he exchanged fire with SWAT teams and injured three police officers. A third, smaller group was gathered in the rabbi’s office to the side of the main congregation.
One man struggled to compose himself as he described racing to the synagogue to check on family members who were inside during the shooting.
‘My father-in-law was inside, I got married in this place, this is crazy,’ the witness told reporters at the scene. ‘This is unbelievable. People have to stop the hate. They have to stop.’
He said his father-in-law escaped the synagogue safely.
Police and EMTs are pictured outside the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, on Saturday after an antisemitic gunman opened fire, murdering at least eight people and injuring many others
After being injured himself in the crossfire, the gunman surrendered to police. He is now in custody and is yet to be named.
Three cops were shot exchanging gunfire with the assailant. One was shot in the hand and did not suffer life threatening injuries. The condition of the other two officers is unknown.
Saturday is one of the busiest days for the synagogue. As many as 100 people in total had gathered across the three congregations for a Sabbath service and a Bris ceremony.
There was no security there, with former synagogue leaders describing how it operates an open door policy for worshipers.
‘On a day today the door is open you can walk in an out,’ the synagogue’s former CEO told CBS Pittsburgh.
‘Like most religious institutions, we have an open door,’ he said.
The synagogue is located in Squirrel Hill which is also home to Carnegie Mellon University and Chatham University. It is a hub for the Jewish community in Pittsburgh