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Kevin Gorman: ‘Your heart just aches for their pain’ | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

Kevin Gorman: ‘Your heart just aches for their pain’

Kevin Gorman
| Saturday, October 27, 2018 8:15 p.m
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Vigil attendees hold candles during a vigil at the corner of Murray Ave and Forbes Ave in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Vigil attendees hold candles and wait for speakers at the corner of Murray Ave and Forbes Ave in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Two women embrace following an active shooter situation Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Tactical police patrol the streets on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 in Squirrel Hill after a fatal shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A SWAT team member heads towards the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Vigil attendees hold candles and wait for speakers at the corner of Murray Ave and Forbes Ave in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Police officers stand near the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Two women embrace following an active shooter situation Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh police have the street shut down around Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Squirrell Hill on Saturday, Oct. 27, after an active shooter was reported in the area.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Tactical police patrol the streets on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 in Squirrel Hill after a fatal shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Police spokesman Chris Togneri addresses the media at the scene of a shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A SWAT team member heads towards the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto arrive at the scene of a shooting at a synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Police officers stand near the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A SWAT team members heads towards the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh police have the street shut down around Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Squirrell Hill on Saturday, Oct. 27, after an active shooter was reported in the area.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Governor Tom Wolf speaks to members of the media at the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Police spokesman Chris Togneri addresses the media at the scene of a shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
People react at the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto arrive at the scene of a shooting at a synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
First responders walk away from the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
A SWAT team members heads towards the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich speaks with members of the media at the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Governor Tom Wolf speaks to members of the media at the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Governor Tom Wolf speaks to members of the media at the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
People react at the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
City and elected officials walk towards members of the press to give information on a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
First responders walk away from the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Tactical police patrol the streets on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 in Squirrel Hill after a fatal shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich speaks with members of the media at the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a press conference on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 after a fatal shooting in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Governor Tom Wolf speaks to members of the media at the scene of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Police patrol sidewalks on Wilkins Avenue in Squirrel Hill after an fatal shooting on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
City and elected officials walk towards members of the press to give information on a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Police patrol sidewalks on Wilkins Avenue in Squirrel Hill after an fatal shooting on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Tactical police patrol the streets on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 in Squirrel Hill after a fatal shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Ryan Rhoades, who's wife works for the Jewish Community Center on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill, tells visitors about the closure of the center on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 after a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue earlier in the day. The Jewish Community Center was operating a grief center for friends and family members of victims.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a press conference on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 after a fatal shooting in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh PoliceChief Scott Schubert speaks with members of the media following a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Police patrol sidewalks on Wilkins Avenue in Squirrel Hill after an fatal shooting on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Flowers are left near the scene of a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Police patrol sidewalks on Wilkins Avenue in Squirrel Hill after an fatal shooting on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich speaks with members of the media following a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Ryan Rhoades, who's wife works for the Jewish Community Center on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill, tells visitors about the closure of the center on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 after a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue earlier in the day. The Jewish Community Center was operating a grief center for friends and family members of victims.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich speaks with members of the media following a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh PoliceChief Scott Schubert speaks with members of the media following a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Governor Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media following a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Flowers are left near the scene of a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A police chaplain walks the sidewalk at the scene of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich speaks with members of the media following a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Carnegie Mellon University students, from left, Shahzad Khan, Emily Suarez, Atticus Shaindlin, Larry McKay, Amanda Ripley and Cate Hayman sing for donations for victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich speaks with members of the media following a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Governor Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media following a mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
A police chaplain walks the sidewalk at the scene of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Carnegie Mellon University students, from left, Shahzad Khan, Emily Suarez, Atticus Shaindlin, Larry McKay, Amanda Ripley and Cate Hayman sing for donations for victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018 on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill.

Mor Harchol-Balter woke Saturday to the sound of sirens. This isn’t uncommon in her Squirrel Hill neighborhood, with the Zone 4 police station and No. 18 fire house situated across the street from her home on the corner of Northumberland and Murray.

“It was like I was in a dream,” Harchol-Balter said. “We’re used to sirens. But it was siren after siren after siren. This didn’t seem normal. We went to look out the window and saw 50 SWAT running with guns drawn. It was like a movie.”

No one could have been prepared for the news that followed: A gunman had shot and killed 11 people and wounded six others, including four police officers, Saturday morning inside the Tree of Life synagogue.

That a sleepy neighborhood celebrating Shabbat became the scene of a deadly attack on a dreary morning left residents in a state of shock.

“This is the safest neighborhood there is,” said Harchol-Balter, who is Jewish and has lived here for two decades with her husband, Andrew Young, and where they raised a son. “This is such a Jewish neighborhood…”

That made Squirrel Hill the obvious target for an anti-Semitic extremist to commit a heinous act of violence during a baby-naming ceremony at Tree of Life Congregation. The shooting suspect has been identified by the FBI as Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, who had a history of posting anti-Semitic messages on social media sites but no prior criminal record.

The crime scene was described as “very horrific” by Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, who choked back tears as he called it “one of the worst I’ve seen – and I’ve been to some plane crashes.”

If the flashing lights blocking traffic from crossing Northumberland at Murray and Shady avenues didn’t signal the strength of the police presence, the sight of dozens of SWAT members walking through single file in camouflage combat gear certainly did.

“You see hundreds,” said Jacob Pelled, an Orthodox Jew who watched the scene from his front porch on Shady Avenue. “I just wish they were here a few hours before, you know.”

Hissrich left us with these haunting words: “These incidents usually occur in other cities. Today, the nightmare has hit home in the city of Pittsburgh.”

Squirrel Hill resident Brad Berger was shaken that the nightmare occurred in his neighborhood, in the same basement at Tree of Life where his daughter’s baby-naming ceremony was held seven years ago.

“It’s tough not knowing who was in there. It’s awful, whether you know them or don’t know them,” Berger said of the victims, noting that the shooting forced him to have a difficult conversation with his young children. “They heard more than I wished. They’d heard what the shooter (reportedly) was saying. I had to explain why hate exists. … “You can’t fathom that someone would do something like that, that someone could intentionally do such devastation.”

Neither could Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, who had just delivered Holy Communion for a Gathering of Catholic Women at the Hyatt Regency Pittsburgh International Airport when word of the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting was whispered into his ear.

“We paused for 10 minutes in total silence to pray for all that is going on,” Zubik said. “Your heart just aches for their pain.”

Zubik stopped to visit Rabbi Bisno at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside, then walked through the Squirrel Hill neighborhood to show his support. Zubik urged all faiths to come together in solidarity.

“I think there’s something that draws our hearts together,” Zubik said. “We have to be there for each other. We live in a culture so toxic, with so much intolerance, that we have to look for ways to tear that wall down. It’s a stark reminder to turn to God and join our hands and hearts.”

Berger couldn’t help but comment on the “creepy” feeling of the empty city streets, comparing it to a ghost town. This was hours after the shooting, hours before a prayer vigil drew more than a thousand mourners to the heart of Squirrel Hill’s business district.

“Anyone that thinks they’re immune from the world’s troubles … nobody’s immune,” Berger said, as helicopters hovered above. “It’s not a perceived fear. It’s a real fear.”

That fear was realized Saturday at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill, where residents couldn’t help but wonder about their sense of security after shots were fired and sirens sounded and the city’s Jewish neighborhood no longer felt like the safest neighborhood.

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