“Saturday was so tragic,” Rabbi Stacy Joy Sokol from the Congregation B’nai Israel in Freeport said referring to the Squirrel Hill shooting.
Shortly before 10 a.m. on Oct. 27, Richard Bowers walked into the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and opened fire.
Mayor Robert Kennedy ordered all of the village of Freeport departments to lower flags at half-staff from Oct. 29 until sunset on Oct. 31 in memory of the 11 worshipers who were killed.
“There is no room in Freeport, Nassau County, this country, or on this earth, for bigotry, racism or anti-Semitic acts,” Kennedy said. “We offer our prayers and condolences to the families and victims of this senseless act.”
Sharing an excerpt from the “Prayer for Peace,” Rabbi Sokol wrote in an email, “Let us work together on making this world a better place. We are tired of dying, hating and fighting. Let love and justice flow like a mighty stream.”
Freeport’s synagogue is located on North Bayview Avenue and has been a part of the community for the last 103 years. Rabbi Sokol said she couldn’t begin to imagine what it would be like to deal with such brutal attacks.
“My heart breaks as our Jewish community has been devastated by an act of evil and injustice,” Rabbi Sokol said. “I don’t think this event should deter people from continuing to embrace Judaism and attending services. This is another sign of ugliness we must face and try to conquer.”
Bowers, 46, according to multiple reports, had posted an anti-Jewish message on his Gab social media account that read: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” That was at 9:49 a.m.
Five minutes later a 911 call was made to the Allegheny County Emergency Operations Center about an active shooter. Police were dispatched. Shots were exchanged. Bullets from Bowers’ AR-15 assault rifle and possibly three handguns struck 17 people, killing 11 and injuring six, including four police officers. His words after being taken into custody according to police were, “All these Jews need to die.”
Bowers, who was also shot, was charged by federal officials with 29 criminal counts, including obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs — a hate crime — and using a firearm to commit murder. He also faces state charges, including 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.
Immediately after news of the shooting broke, many took to social media, especially Twitter to react to the mass shooting. It was the 294th such incident this year in the United States. A mass shooting is defined as four or more individuals being shot or killed in the same general time and location.
Anti-Semitism appeared to be a motive for the shooting, Bowers targeted the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society for his ire. It is a nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees.
“All these tragedies share many similarities,” Rabbi Sokol said. “It is time we stand against hate of people’s religion and social status.”