Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: 'Multiple casualties,' 4 officers injured, officials say

PITTSBURGH, Penn. - Multiple people were killed and at least six more were injured -- including four responding police officers -- when a gunman opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning, authorities said.

"It's a very horrific crime scene," Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich told reporters during the press conference Saturday afternoon. "it's one of the worst that I've seen."

Police responded earlier this morning to reports of active gunfire at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha congregation, where a service as taking place, Hissrich said. The suspect is in custody and has been taken to the hospital, Hissrich said, and it appears there is no longer any active threat to the community.

The congregants were attending a baby-naming ceremony in the synagogue, Pennsylvania's state attorney general told the Associated Press.

Since the incident happened at a synagogue, it is being treated as a federal hate crime and will be handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with the assistance of local, county and state police, he added.

 

First responders prevented the shooting from becoming a worse tragedy, and the injured have been taken to three area hospitals with level one trauma centers, Hissrich said.

Rabbi Alvin Berkun, who was not at the synagogue at the time, told ABC News he was "stunned" and "sorry" to hear of the shooting. He said he had stayed home from services Saturday morning because his wife was sick and that he has not heard from friends who were in the building.

Berkun, who lives nearby the synagogue, said police officers came to his door and told him to stay inside his home. He described the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, where the synagogue is located, as "a very Jewish neighborhood" which is "known as a Jewish community."

"There's absolutely no crime, it's an amazing neighborhood," Berkun said. "It's hard to believe it's a city neighborhood. It's dominated by the Jewish community center four blocks away...by kosher bakeries -- all kinds of Jewish gift shops, bookshops, a number of synagogues."

"There is one major synagogue but there are at least five other synagogues within two miles of where we are," he said.

When the gunman opened fire at the synagogue, law enforcement officers, including agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) swiftly responded to the scene.

The suspect was apprehended a short time later.

The synagogue is a conservative Jewish congregation, according to its website, and there was a morning Shabbat service scheduled from 9:45 a.m. to noon.

Berkun said there are "three different religious groups that are meeting in our building on Saturday morning with three distinct services," estimating that there could have been approximately 75 people in the building at the time. Hissrich declined during the press conference to say how many people were inside at the time.

Speaking to reporters before boarding a flight for an event in Indiana, President Donald Trump called the attack "a shame," calling the suspect "a wacko" and a "maniac." He also said the suspect should "pay the ultimate price" and be subjected to the death penalty.

When asked about whether the nation's gun laws should be changed, Trump said the synagogue should have had armed security there.

"You want protection, and they didn’t have any protection, they had a maniac walk in," Trump said. "The results could have been much better."

He said that before getting into office, he would think "what a shame, what a shame" when incidents like this one unfolded.

"It’s even tougher when you’re the president of the United States and you have to watch this thing happen," Trump said.

Earlier, Trump tweeted that he has been in touch with Pittsburgh's mayor and the state's governor, writing that "Events in Pittsburgh are far more devastating than originally thought."

Vice President Mike Pence offered his condolences on Twitter.

"Praying for the fallen, the injured, all the families impacted, and our courageous first responders,” he tweeted Saturday morning. "God bless them all."

First lady Melania Trump said her "heart breaks" over the shooting, and that "the violence needs to stop."

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted that he was headed to Pittsburgh. 

"We are providing local first responders with whatever help they need," he wrote.

The New York City Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department said that they are deploying extra teams to synagogues and Jewish locations throughout those cities as well.

"The NYPD is deploying heavy weapons teams, including the officers from the Critical Response Command and the Strategic Response Team, to houses of worship across the City," the department said in a statement. "Additionally, sector cars in every command across New York City will be making additional visits to ensure the safety of all of our residents. Currently, there is no nexus to New York. But these steps are being taken until further information is learned about the events in Pittsburgh by the NYPD."

Police in Washington, D.C., are also on alert.

"We have reached out to Jewish community leaders and have directed officers to pay special attention to synagogues until further notice," a spokesperson for the D.C. police department said.

Story courtesy of ABC News 

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