At least 31 people and one shooter are dead in the wake of two mass murders that took place over 13 hours in the United States last weekend.
Twenty-two people were killed and at least two dozen injured in a shooting on Saturday afternoon at a Walmart shopping center in El Paso, Texas. In Dayton, Ohio, nine people and the shooter were killed and 26 injured in a mass shooting shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday morning. That shooting took place on the outskirts of downtown Dayton’s Oregon District, a popular entertainment area.
The shootings triggered feelings of angst among Jewish Pittsburghers, still coping with the aftermath of the anti-Semitic massacre at the Tree of Life building on October 27 that left 11 dead and six seriously wounded, including four law enforcement officers.
“All of us feel the pain and loss of loved ones in the senseless murders of innocent people across the nation,” read a joint statement issued by congregations Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, New Light and Dor Hadash on Sunday. “We are heartbroken, again, by this weekend’s tragedies in El Paso and Dayton. It was approximately nine months ago that our community was targeted and affected forever by a hate crime.
“Last October, these and other cities across America shared their love and support with the people of Pittsburgh as we lost members of our congregations and cared for others who were injured and survived,” the statement continued. “We know first-hand the fear, anguish and healing process such an atrocity causes, and our hearts are with the afflicted families and those communities. We mourn with the families and friends of the victims and all of the survivors in El Paso and Dayton. This epidemic of senseless acts of violence, prejudice and terror must end.”
On Tuesday evening, dozens of people planned to gather at Beth Shalom to write letters to the families of victims of the shootings in El Paso, Dayton and Gilroy, California. The event was organized by Yael Perlman, daughter of Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light Congregation, and soon to be a freshman at Brandeis University.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council wrote it was “devastated and outraged by the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, this weekend” in a statement issued Sunday.
“Our community knows all too well what it is like to be targeted by hateful people with guns, and we are far from alone,” the CRC statement reads. “The attack on a bar in Dayton marks the 251st mass shooting in the United States this year. Enough is enough.”
The CRC noted that the Jewish Federations of North America and Secure Community Network “have reached out to the communities affected in order to offer assistance. We are saddened by these senseless acts of violence, but remain committed to our work to minimize the forces of hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. May the victims’ memories forever be a blessing.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto took to Twitter Sunday morning to condemn the attacks: “Woke up this AM to yet another mass shooting. Called my friend, Dayton Mayor @nanwhaley to offer support & advice gained from our horrific experience. Incredible that states & federal government continue to ignore this epidemic. Doing nothing will not solve the problem.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called for banning assault weapons and instituting stricter background checks in a tweet on Sunday, as well as targeting white nationalism and investing in mental health care. “We cannot accept this violence as normal,” he wrote. “We must act.”
Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey also called for decisive action in the wake of the attacks.
“President Trump should address the nation to condemn white nationalism and pledge an all of government effort to confront white nationalist terrorism,” Casey wrote in a statement. “For years, Congressional Republicans have blocked action on measures to reduce gun violence and they must be held accountable. It’s time for Senator McConnell and Congressional Republicans to confront gun violence or get out of the way.”
Toomey wrote in a statement that we should “do more to keep guns out of the hands of psychopaths.”
While acknowledging that “no law will end mass shootings entirely,” Toomey encouraged Congress to work toward keeping communities safer “by passing bipartisan proposals such as my legislation with Senator Joe Manchin to expand background checks to all commercial firearm sales. I also agree with Senator Lindsey Graham that we should pass a bipartisan ‘red flag’ measure that enables families and law enforcement to obtain a court order to keep guns away from dangerous individuals.”
The alleged El Paso shooter is in police custody and has been identified as Patrick Crusius. He is believed to have posted a manifesto on 8chan, a conspiracy theory message board, in which he wrote disparagingly about Hispanic immigration to the U.S and in support of the manifesto and actions of Chirstchurch mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant.
Later on Sunday, Crusius was charged with capital murder, El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza said. Under Texas law, he could face the death penalty. The shooting is being investigated as domestic terrorism and a hate crime, CNN reported.
If the manifesto is proved to have been authored by Crusius, the El Paso massacre would be “the third deadliest act of violence by a domestic extremist in over 50 years and the second deadliest act of violence by a right-wing extremist in the same span, second only to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The Dayton shooter, who was killed by police less than a minute after the start of the shooting, was identified as Connor Betts, 24, of Bellbrook, Ohio. Wearing body armor and a face mask, he used a .223-caliber high-capacity magazine rifle in the attack, and had extra magazines for the rifle. One of the victims of his attack was his sister, Megan Betts, 22, who had arrived at the entertainment area in a car with her brother and a friend.
Betts was once kicked out of his high school because he had made a list of girls he wanted to kill, according to the Dayton Daily News.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was in El Paso last week with hundreds of faith leaders to protest the treatment of asylum seekers on the border with Mexico. “Now our hearts turn again to El Paso, in the face of this slaughter of innocents by a gunman who authorities say was inspired by anti-immigrant rhetoric,” he said in a statement. “It is not enough for elected officials to muster their ‘thoughts and prayers.’ Like millions of Americans I’m sick of the pathetic excuses offered by too many lawmakers for not passing strong and effective common sense gun laws.”
Jacobs also called on Trump to “stop demonizing asylum seekers and immigrants, which serves to embolden those like today’s shooter.”
The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association for Conservative/Masorti rabbis, also called for new gun laws in a statement issued on Sunday. “We pray for their families, and for refuah sheleimah, full and complete healing for the many who are wounded. We must not wait another moment to take action to improve U.S. gun laws,” the statement said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his condolences: “In the past 24 hours, we have witnessed two murderous attacks in Texas and Ohio. On behalf of all government ministers and all citizens of Israel, I send condolences to the bereaved families, best wishes for recovery to the injured, and solidarity with the American people,” he said in the tweet. pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.
Adam Reinherz contributed to this report.