Tom Hanks with Joanne Rogers at the peace and unity gathering at Point State Park on Nov. 9, 2018. Photo by Tracy Certo.

“This is tough, tough weather, but you’re a tough, tough city,” said actor and native Pittsburgher Michael Keaton as he served as master of ceremonies today at the peace and unity rally Downtown.

Hundreds gathered in the cold rain and muddy grounds at Point State Park this afternoon to honor the 11 Pittsburghers killed in the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Many more watched on TV, streaming video or listened on air.

Michael Keaton at Rally for Peace. Wasi Mohamed to the left.

Political leaders like County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Mayor Bill Peduto shared the stage with religious leaders such as Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the shooting and Wasi Mohamed, the head of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, which raised more than $250,000 for the Jewish community following the shooting. Keaton singled out local actor Patrick Jordan for playing a key role in helping the city organize the event.

Dozens of speakers from the world of government, faith, entertainment and sports expressed their condolences and praised the spirit of the city.

In between, several choirs and groups of musicians — including Phat Man Dee, Liz Berlin and Anqwenique Wingfield — sang songs such as “This Land is Your Land.”

Phat Man Dee singing “This Land.” Photo by Tracy Certo.
Phat Man Dee singing “This Land.” Photo by Tracy Certo.

“People all over the world have marveled at the strength, the resilience and the love of Pittsburgh,” said Senator Bob Casey at the beginning of the event.

Later in the ceremony, they were joined by actor Tom Hanks, who escorted Joanne Rogers onto the stage. The wife of the late Fred Rogers pleaded for “more hugs, less guns” before she and Hanks joined the Taylor Allderdice High School choir to sing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (The crowd easily forgave Hanks for bungling the pronunciation of Allderdice as he corrected himself with a smile near the end.)

Tom Hanks with Joanne Rogers. Photo by Tracy Certo.

The overall mood was solemn, except for a short talk by former Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel, who stomped the stage at the end of his remarks and led the crowd in a chant, “City of Change! City of Change!”

First responders and police were called to the stage, including officer Dan Mead who was the first to encounter the Tree of Life shooter, as well as victims’ families.

While none of the speeches were overtly political, the wider debate surrounding gun control was alluded to several times throughout. Mayor Peduto, in particular, connected the rampage in Squirrel Hill to other recent acts of violent crime all over the nation, and vowed to keep “working for common sense reform that will end this type of violence.”

Governor Wolf vowed to return to Harrisburg and push for policies that will stop hate “whether on the internet or in the shadows.”

Rabbi Myers encouraged the crowd to stop using the word “hate” altogether.

In remarks near the end of the rally, Mohamed said the horrific attack “has afforded us a moment of solidarity, [but] now we need a movement of solidarity.”

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