A gunman shouting anti-Semitic epithets burst into Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa., and opened fire during Shabbat-morning services, killing at least 11. Six people were wounded, four of them police officers responding to the shooting.

“This is the most horrific crime scene I’ve seen in 22 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” said Robert Allan Jones, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office. “Members of the Tree of Life synagogue conducting a peaceful service in their place of worship were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith.” According to the Anti-Defamation League it was “likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”

Rabbis Respond to the Tragedy

“We were in synagogue and as soon as we heard, the first thing I did was to say that we have to stop what we are doing and together recite Tehillim [Psalms],” Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, rabbi and director of Chabad Lubavitch of Pittsburgh, told Chabad.org. “The entire community in Squirrel Hill, and, from what I’m hearing, around the world, are in a state of shock and mourning. As the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] would remind us to say in difficult times, Barcheinu Avinu kulanu k’echod [‘Bless us our Father, all of us as one’]. We must unite to do what we can for everyone.”

Immediately after services, the rabbi rushed to the local JCC, where family members of people who were at the Tree of Life synagogue were gathering. “They have not yet released the names of those killed,” said Rosenfeld. “Some families don’t know what’s with their fathers or brothers.”

There are multiple vigils going on throughout the city, said the rabbi. One began at 6 p.m. and another is beginning at about 9 p.m. Yet another is taking place in a nearby university.

Aid and Comfort to University Students

“I was in shul this morning at 9:30, and saw the police and fire trucks racing by,” said Rabbi Shlomo Silverman, co-director of Chabad of Carnegie Mellon University. “Squirrel Hill is a small community, so everything is very close. Jews were killed in our backyard. People are disturbed, upset, confused, not sure how to react.”

“Hundreds of students are gathered right now,” the rabbi said soon after the conclusion of the Shabbat. “The dean of the university, provosts came by. We’re providing support, spreading a message of positivity to students, providing food.”

“We will be opening areas where we will be available throughout the week to meet and communicate with the students,” Silverman continued. “We will show support and respond by bringing goodness into the world.”

Killer Had History of Anti-Semitic Posts

The shooter, identified as Robert Bowers, 46, was armed with a semi-automatic rifle and three hand guns. After police rushed into the building, he shot two officers, and then barricaded himself in a room before being taken into custody and hospitalized with multiple gunshot wounds. The gunman had a history of virulently anti-Semitic online posts.

The synagogue is in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, which has one of the largest Jewish populations in Pennsylvania. There are about 15,000 residents in the area, comprising about 23 percent of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.

Condemnation for the attack was swift. President Donald Trump called it a “wicked act of mass murder” that was “pure evil.”

Vice President Mike Pence called it an attack on the First Amendment’s freedom of religion.

“What happened in Pittsburgh today was not just criminal. It was evil. An attack on innocent Americans and an assault on our freedom of religion,” he said.

“There is no place in America for violence or anti-Semitism, and this evil must end.”

“Now I’m just sad,” Jeff Finkelstein, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, told reporters.

“I don’t know what to tell you. My heart goes out to all these families. This should not be happening. Period. It should not be happening in a synagogue. It should not be happening in our neighborhood here in Squirrel Hill.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “heartbroken and appalled” by the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“The entire people of Israel grieve with the families of the dead,” said Netanyahu. “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.”

“It’s a horrific crime scene,” said Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, at times choking up during a news conference. “It’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”

The synagogue shooting is being considered as a hate crime and will fall under federal investigation, he said.

Officials added that there appears to be no active threat to the community after the shooting.