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Vigils held for Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims

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Hundreds gather in the heart of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh to take part in the candlelight vigil to remember the 11 people that lost their lives at the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting Saturday morning. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI

By Susan McFarland, UPI

The Pittsburgh community gathered Saturday evening for prayer vigils to honor victims killed and wounded after a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in the city's Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

Eleven people died and six sustained injuries including two in critical condition during the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, where congregants were attending a prayer service.

About 2,000 people came to the vigils, which were held at the Sixth Presbyterian Church and also at Murray and Forbes avenues about a half mile from the synagogue, an event organized by area high school students.

The gunman, identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers, is from Baldwin, a borough in Allegheny County. Police investigated at the home they believe Bowers lived, which is an apartment complex about 12 miles away from the synagogue.

Police said Bowers burst into the synagogue and screamed, "All Jews must die!" and ranted other anti-Semitic statements as he opened fire.

Law enforcement officials told CNN Bowers' social media postings had targeted Jews. Investigators said a post on Gab believed to be by Bowers said, "can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."

A statement by Gab said the company is "saddened and disgusted."

"Shortly after the attack, Gab was alerted to a user profile of the alleged Tree of Life Synagogue shooter," the statement said."The account was verified and matched the name of the alleged shooter's name, which was mentioned on police scanners."

Other social media posts believed to be from Bowers show pictures of several Glock pistols and derogatory remarks about refugees, Jewish people and President Donald Trump.

Officials say Bowers had an assault-style rifle and three handguns when he entered the synagogue. As he was exiting the building, Bowers was confronted by a Pittsburgh police officer, who exchanged gunfire with him. That officer and three other officers were wounded with injuries police described as non-life-threatening.

A CNN report said one of the officers was listed in critical condition.

Bowers was taken to Allegheny General Hospital in fair condition with multiple gunshot wounds.

Police told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette Bowers was not known to police other than "contacts" with him more than a decade ago but the nature of those incidents were not revealed to reporters.

Bowers has no criminal history in Pennsylvania, according to online records obtained by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In 2015, Bowers pleaded guilty to a traffic ticket in Butler County and also was cited in Cranberry Township for unlawfully operating a vehicle without identification markers, court records reveal.

His voter registration did not list a political party affiliation.

Survivors of the shooting, along with the four police officers, include Daniel Leger, 70, a nurse and UPMC chaplain. He was in critical condition late Saturday after undergoing surgery at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland, his brother Paul Leger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Trump said the "evil Anti-Semitic attack is an assault on humanity."

"It will take all of us working together to extract the poison of Anti-Semitism from our world. We must unite to conquer hate," the president tweeted.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf tweeted "In the aftermath of this tragedy we must all come together. We must take action to prevent these tragedies in the future. We simply cannot accept this violence as a normal part of American life."

Former President Barack Obama also weighed in Twitter: "We grieve for the Americans murdered in Pittsburgh. All of us have to fight the rise of anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric against those who look, love, or pray differently. And we have to stop making it so easy for those who want to harm the innocent to get their hands on a gun."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted he is "heartbroken and shocked" by the attack and said Israel is grieving along with the families of the dead and praying for the injured to recover quickly.

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