The Justice Department is filing federal hate crime charges against Robert Bowers, 46, the man police say shot and killed 11 people during a baby-naming ceremony Saturday morning at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said hours later.
“These alleged crimes are reprehensible and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation,” Sessions said Saturday evening, adding that the Justice Department’s criminal charges could mean the death penalty for Bowers if he is convicted.
“Today 11 innocent people were suddenly and viciously murdered during religious services, and several law enforcement officers were shot,” the attorney general said.
Armed with an AK-47 and two handguns, Bowers opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, police said.
Witnesses report that Bowers yelled “All Jews must die!” as he opened fire on the congregation.
Four police officers who responded to the attack were wounded. No children were among those killed, authorities said.
Bowers, also wounded in the gunfight, was arrested after surrendering to police.
A social media account operated by Bowers showed that he spread anti-Semitic rhetoric and conspiracy theories.
President Donald Trump called the mass murder devastating and said the gunman must “pay the ultimate price.”
President Trump speaks to farmers in Indiana, beginning his address with remarks about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 27, 2018
Some congressional Democrats immediately pushed for more gun control measures following the shooting.
Bowers’ social media accounts were filled with anti-Semitic rhetoric. It was not clear how he acquired his weapons, whether he passed a background check, and whether any new law could have prevented the shooting.
Even so, prominent Democrats took to social media to advocate more restrictive gun laws.
“Congress is complicit—by its inaction—in this loathsome epidemic of gun violence,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote on Twitter.
“I don’t want to arm synagogues and churches and schools. I want to live in a society where nazism and white supremacy crawls back in a hole and we have universal background checks,” Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, wrote.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., slammed unnamed “opponents of common-sense gun safety.”
“Every time this happens, we’re shocked – and say it mustn’t happen again,” Nelson said. “When will opponents of common-sense gun safety work with us? We need to get assault weapons off the streets and out of the hands of those who would do us harm.”
“We need more than thoughts and prayers-we need action to stop these senseless deaths from gun violence,” Sen. Chris Coons, Del., wrote.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., called for “reasonable gun safety measures.”
Trump took the opposite approach, saying he wished the synagogue had had an armed guard.
“This would be a case for, if there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him,” the president said. “Maybe there would’ve been nobody killed except for [the gunman] … [but] this is a world with a lot of problems, and it has been for many, many years.”
— WPXI (@WPXI) October 27, 2018
Here is Sessions’ full statement, issued shortly after 5 p.m.:
Hatred and violence on the basis of religion can have no place in our society. Every American has the right to attend their house of worship in safety. Today 11 innocent people were suddenly and viciously murdered during religious services and several law enforcement officers were shot.
These alleged crimes are reprehensible and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation. Accordingly, the Department of Justice will file hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant, including charges that could lead to the death penal
It has been an important week for us to show gratitude for the hard work of our law officers around the country. And today was no exception. I want to thank the FBI, ATF, Pittsburgh police, and especially the heroic officers who were so quick to respond to the shooting, including the multiple officers who were shot. These officers ran to danger to save others, which reflects the highest traditions of policing in this country. There can be no doubt that they saved lives today.
The Department of Justice will continue to support our state and local partners and we will continue to bring the full force of the law against anyone who would violate the civil rights of the American people.
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