Eleven people were killed and six were injured in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which is being investigated as a hate crime
At 9:54 Saturday morning, Pittsburgh police received a call about an active shooter at a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of the city. The carnage they encountered in the attack — which killed 11 people and injured six — left law enforcement officials visibly shaken when describing the shooting.
“This is the most horrific crime scene I have seen in 22 years at the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” said Bob Jones, the FBI special agent in charge in Pittsburgh. “Members of the Tree of Life synagogue — a place of worship — were brutally murdered by a gunman simply because of their faith.”
Zachary Weiss, 26, a Tree of Life congregation member whose father was filling in as a rabbi during the services, tells PEOPLE the shooter entered through the synagogue’s front door: “It’s an open-door policy.”
A loud noise rang out, and after people went outside to investigate more loud noises rang out. At that point, another rabbi told congregants to get behind a safe area as it dawned on everyone they were hearing gunshots.
According to Weiss, the synagogue building hosts three congregations, which were holding separate events including a service in one area and a bris downstairs.
Weiss’ father walked through the facility to check on the safety of the other congregations. Weiss soon heard about the shooting and wanted to reach his father — but he didn’t want to call his cell phone in case he was hiding from the shooter.
Among the six injured, four were police officers, authorities have said.
No children were killed in the shooting, which is being investigated as a hate crime, authorities have said.
The suspect, Robert Bowers is a Pittsburgh resident whose age authorities have not released and who was not previously known to police.
The suspect was taken to the hospital after surrendering to police, authorities said. He had multiple gunshot wounds and was in fair condition.
Authorities said the suspect spent about 20 minutes inside the synagogue and they believed he used an assault rifle in the rampage. He had three handguns on him.
Police sources told local TV station KDKA the shooter yelled, “All Jews must die” after entering the synagogue during the Saturday morning Shabbat service.
A law enforcement official tells PEOPLE investigators are looking at an account on the social media site Gab in which a user who is possibly the shooter writes, “Jews are the children of Satan,” as well as other anti-Semitic posts.
The six injured victims were transferred to area hospitals. One of them, a 70-year-old man who suffered gunshot wounds to the torso involving major organs, was in critical condition as of Saturday afternoon.
• With reporting by SUSAN KEATING and CHRISTINE PELISEK