CEOs, rabbis, executive directors, board chairs and leaders from Pittsburgh’s synagogues and Jewish organizations gathered at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh on Sunday morning, Oct. 29 to hear from representatives of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and Robert Jones, the FBI special agent in charge of Pittsburgh’s field office. The meeting, which was held roughly 24 hours after a gunman murdered 11 worshippers at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, served multiple purposes, said Federation board chair Meryl Ainsman.
“This is a moment of sitting together, thinking about those who’ve left us, our community and about gaining strength as we move forward,” she said.
Unlike other meetings, “there is no formal agenda for this morning,” said Jeff Finkelstein, Federation’s president and CEO, in follow-up remarks which offered consolation to the rabbis and families of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, New Light Congregation and Congregation Dor Hadash, which shared the building attacked by suspect Robert Bowers.
It is important to express gratitude to “the Pittsburgh Police and the first responders who stepped in yesterday. We’re not only a great Jewish community, but a great Pittsburgh,” he added.
Following an introduction from Finkelstein, Jones shared details regarding Saturday’s attack and the ongoing judicial process.
“The first shots were fired at 9:45 a.m.,” said the FBI special agent.
The suspect, Bowers, spent approximately 20 minutes inside the building. On him, he carried an assault rifle and three handguns.
Several hundred rounds were fired. A ballistics test must be done on every round. Each test takes 15 minutes, thus the investigation will take at least a week in the synagogue, he said.
“We don’t know how he concealed all of his weaponry,” said Jones. “Most shootings of this nature, they don’t seem to be as well versed in the mechanics” of the weapon.
As the suspect was leaving the synagogue, he was met by first responders. Jones credited one of the officers with preventing further loss of life.
Had the suspect “made it out of that facility, he may have been on the loose for days or hours,” said Jones.
Following the suspect’s apprehension and initial interrogation, a federal arrest warrant was issued and the suspect was taken into federal custody.
A search was executed at the suspect’s residence.
“There was nothing to indicate additional accomplices or threats,” said Jones.
As for how the guns were procured by the suspect, “my understanding is that he received his weapons legally.”
The suspect is considered a lone wolf.
“Somebody by themselves is incredibly difficult to predict,” said Jones. “I don’t believe he had a criminal history.”
Moving forward, the suspect’s social media will be scrubbed for additional information.
“There are lots of interviews to do. We will continue to ask the public for additional leads and help,” said Jones.
Brad Orsini, Federation’s director of Jewish community security, emphasized that the community needed to remain vigilant.
As in the past, anyone noticing any suspicious or concerning materials should “send the information to me,” he said. “I will reach out to the Bureau.”
Multiple sites will receive increased security in the days to come, he added. “We’re going to be incredibly cautious going forward. … The goal is really to make the community feel as safe as possible.”
Orsini recalled how on Jan. 25, an active shooter drill was held at the JCC.
“Unfortunately, our worst nightmare came true,” he said. PJC