Pittsburghers gather at a vigil for the Tree of Life shooting victims on Oct. 27, 2018. Photo by Bill O'Toole.

Thousands gathered at the corner of Forbes and Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill tonight to mourn the 11 people killed and 6 wounded in the deadly rampage at the Tree of Life Synagogue this morning.

“This is not something we can just forget,” said one of the teen leaders of the event. “Squirrel Hill will not forget this.”

Said another teen: “I am a different Jew than I was yesterday.”

The event was organized — only a few hours after the gunman had been taken into custody — by students from nearby Taylor Allderdice High School, with support from Sixth Presbyterian Church, Dor Hadash and the Jewish Community Center.

As mourners began to arrive before 6 p.m., several streets around the crime scene remained blocked off by Pittsburgh police. Braddock Mayor and Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee John Fetterman and Congressman Mike Doyle were also in attendance.

A service at Sixth Presbyterian was packed, with Mayor Bill Peduto, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Governor Tom Wolf in attendance.

The teenage activists outside led the assembled crowd in singing several traditional Jewish songs of faith and healing, and implored those in attendance to vote in the coming midterm elections.

The shooting and its aftermath have gripped the nation, with political leaders all over their world tweeting their condolences, and a moment of silence being held before Game 4 of the World Series. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League is describing the shooting as one of the worst attacks on the Jewish community in American history.

The group of young, all female organizers stressed that their event was not meant to speak for the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh, and urged those in attendance to watch social media for news on further vigils in the coming days.

”It’s right to be angry,” said one of the students. “But it’s also important to comfort one another.” Throughout the crowd, people lit candles and hugged.

Pittsburghers gather in Squirrel Hill at a vigil for the Tree of Life shooting victims. Photo by Bill O’Toole.
Pittsburghers gather in Squirrel Hill at a vigil for the Tree of Life shooting victims. Photo by Bill O’Toole.

The shooting began shortly after the start of the 9:45 a.m. Shabbat service. Accused shooter Robert Bowers, now in custody, is believed to have entered the synagogue armed with an AR-15 and several pistols, and began firing on the worshippers.

Reports say that Bowers barricaded himself in an office on the grounds of the synagogue before surrendering to authorities. Four Pittsburgh Police officers were wounded at the scene.

According to media reports, Bowers has 21 guns registered in his name. His social media accounts included posts that frequently contained strident anti-Semitic language and conspiracy theories.

The names of the victims will be released at 9 a.m. on Sunday, October 28.

This was the 294th mass shooting of 2018.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.