Hate crime charges filed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 dead

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PITTSBURGH -- Federal prosecutors have filed hate crime charges against a Pennsylvania man who authorities say stormed a Pittsburgh synagogue and opened fire, killing 11 people.

Robert Bowers, 46, of suburban Baldwin, surrendered to authorities after Saturday morning's shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. It's believed he made anti-Semitic statements during the shooting and targeted Jews in posts on social media that are a focus of the investigation, according to a federal law enforcement official.

Bowers faces 29 charges in all in a rampage that left the Squirrel Hill neighborhood and the rest of the nation stunned.

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich told reporters: "These incidents usually occur in other cities."

"Today, the nightmare has hit home in the city of Pittsburgh," he said.

Bowers is charged with 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and multiple counts of two hate crimes: obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer.

"The crimes of violence are based upon the federal civil rights laws prohibiting hate crimes," US Attorney Scott W. Brady and Bob Jones, FBI special agent in charge of Pittsburgh office, said in a statement.

Six people were injured as a result of the shooting, said Hissrich, four of whom were police officers who responded to the scene. No children were among the dead, he said.

"It's a very horrific crime scene," he said. "It's one of the worst I've seen."

Shots fired shortly before 10 a.m.

The Allegheny County Emergency Operations center received calls of an active shooter at 9:54 a.m. ET, Hissrich told reporters. Officers were dispatched a minute later.

According to the FBI's Jones, the suspect was in the process of leaving when he encountered a Pittsburgh police officer who "engaged him." The officer was subsequently injured, and the suspect went back into the synagogue, where he hid from SWAT officers who arrived on the scene.

In all, two police officers and two SWAT officers were wounded in the confrontation, Hissrich said. Three of them were shot, according to the city's public safety department.

The suspect suffered multiple gunshot wounds and is in fair condition.

Investigators recovered a rifle and three handguns from the scene of the shooting, Jones said. Authorities believe the suspect acted alone, and he said law enforcement had no knowledge of Bowers prior to the shooting.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Saturday afternoon that the Department of Justice would "file hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant, including charges that could lead to the death penalty."

Five victims were being treated at two Pittsburgh hospitals, according to Paul Wood, a spokesman for University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Four victims were being treated at UPMC Presbyterian and one victim was being treated at UPMC Mercy. One person was treated at Presbyterian and released.

Social media posts are part of the investigation

A law enforcement source said that investigators believe an account on Gab, a social media platform, that espoused anti-Semitic views belonged to Bowers. The language on the account matches the suspected motivations behind the shootings, the source said.

Its last ominous post was made at 9:49 a.m., just five minutes before police were notified of the shooting.

"I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered," Bowers wrote. "Screw your optics, I'm going in."

Bowers' anti-Semitic comments also fueled other hate speech he shared on Gab, which has styled itself as an alternative to Twitter and puts nearly no restrictions on content.

In one post, Bowers claimed Jews were helping transport members of the migrant caravans. He believed that those in the migrant caravans were violent because they were attempting to leave countries that had high levels of violence. And Bowers repeatedly called them "invaders."

"I have noticed a change in people saying 'illegals' that now say 'invaders'," read one post, six days before the shooting. "I like this."

Among the vitriolic statements is also criticism of President Donald Trump, in which Bowers suggested the President was surrounded by too many Jewish people.  Roughly four hours before the shooting, Bowers commented in a post that he did not vote for Trump.

In a statement, Gab disavowed "all acts of terrorism and violence" and said its mission was to defend free expression and individual liberty online for all people."

After being alerted to the suspect's profile on the platform, Gab said it backed up the data, suspended the account and contacted the FBI.

Shooting 'more devastating than originally thought,' Trump says

The FBI will be the lead investigating agency, Hissrich said.

President Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland that the shooting was a "terrible, terrible thing."

"If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him," Trump said before boarding a flight to Indianapolis.

After landing, the president told reporters the shooting looks like "an anti-Semitic crime."

"We're learning a lot about it. It looks definitely like it's an anti-Semitic crime. And that is something you wouldn't believe could still be going on," he said.

Trump previously said in a tweet that the shooting was "far more devastating than originally thought."

Gov. Tom Wolf said on Twitter that it was a "serious situation," and the Pennsylvania State Police were helping local first responders.

"This is an absolute tragedy," Wolf said in another tweet. "These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans. My thoughts right now are focused on the victims, their families and making sure law enforcement has every resource they need."

Special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded to the shooting, according to the ATF's Philadelphia field office.

President Trump orders flags flown at half staff

President Donald Trump has ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the United States to be flown at half-staff in "solemn respect" for the shooting victims at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Trump issued the proclamation late Saturday, shortly after returning to Washington from speaking at the Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis and a campaign rally in Murphysboro, Illinois.

Throughout the day, he expressed sorrow, called for justice and bemoaned hate, getting regular updates on the shooting. But he also campaigned for candidates and took shots at favorite Democratic targets. Trump said cancelling his appearance would make "sick, demented people important."

In the proclamation, Trump called for the flags to be lowered until Oct. 31. Earlier in the day he told reporters he would travel to Pittsburgh, but offered no details.

Continuing coverage, here.

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