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Victims slain at Pittsburgh synagogue honored, remembered via funerals today

Posted: 1:14 PM, Oct 30, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-30 17:17:27Z

A Pittsburgh community shaken by a brazen rampage in a synagogue continues its grieving Tuesday with funerals for three victims of what's believed to be the deadliest attack against Jews in US history .

Mourners, including members of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, lined up late in the morning outside Rodef Shalom temple for a visitation and funeral for brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal , who were among the 11 worshippers killed Saturday when a gunman stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in the close-knit community of Squirrel Hill.

A funeral also was underway Tuesday morning for Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz at Pittsburgh's Jewish Community Center.

The services came hours before a visit from President Donald Trump, who will travel Tuesday afternoon to Pittsburgh , despite a request from the city's mayor to hold off on the trip.

'We are not going anywhere'

Eleven people died and six were injured when a gunman opened fire in the synagogue as three congregations gathered to celebrate Shabbat services. Robert Bowers, whom authorities believe acted alone, faces 29 federal charges, some of which are punishable by death.

The shooting has struck at the heart of Pittsburgh's historically Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood and reverberated across the nation as people have banded together to comfort one another and stare down hatred.

"Tomorrow, we begin the funerals for our 11 neighbors who were stolen from us. Tomorrow, we continue to mourn their loss," Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted Monday night. "We continue to help their families & those that were wounded. We reach out to our Jewish community to share love, compassion & empathy."

Blue light washed over Pittsburgh on Monday night, as buildings lit up in tribute to those who were killed.

The Pennsylvania State Capitol, in Harrisburg, also was bathed Monday night in a single blue light, as the governor attended a vigil.

"All of Pennsylvania stands with the victims and their families," Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted . "We join the Pittsburgh Jewish community and Jewish Americans across our nation in mourning."

Online, mourners have rallied behind the hashtag #strongerthanhate.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was leading the service at the Tree of Life when bullets began to fly, said his congregants would be unbowed.

"We are Tree of Life and, as I said before to many, you can cut off some of the branches from our tree, but Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years. We're not going anywhere," he said Monday on CNN's New Day. "We will be back stronger and better than ever."

President's visit met with reservation

Unlike some, Myers welcomed Trump's visit Tuesday to his synagogue, though he had no plans to meet with the President, he told CNN.

"The President of the United States is always welcome," the rabbi said Monday. "I'm a citizen. He's my president. He is certainly welcome."

That sentiment, though, prompted a swift backlash, including emails that "contain hate," Myers said Tuesday morning.

"It just continues in this vicious cycle: Hate, promulgating more hate, promulgating more hate," he told CNN. "And that's just not the solution. We need to be better than this. We can be better than this."

First lady Melania Trump will join the President, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will accompany them, CNN has learned.

The President is expected to visit the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which treated some of the shooting victims, in the late afternoon, UPMC spokesman Paul Wood said.

Trump wants to travel to Pittsburgh to show support, Sanders said, though his visit has been criticized in some circles .

Jewish activists in Pittsburgh told the President in an open letter that his words and policies over the past three years "have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement," and that he is not welcome until he "fully (denounces) white nationalism."

Peduto, the mayor, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, both Democrats, have indicated they will not meet with the Republican President during his visit.

Peduto told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday that he would rather Trump visit after the victims' funerals .

"I do believe that it would be best to put the attention on the families this week and, if he were to visit, choose a different time to be able to do it," Peduto said. "Our focus as a city will be on the families and the outreach they will need this week and the support they'll need to get through it."

Asked Tuesday whether Peduto would appear with Trump, spokesman Tim McNulty said: "No. His (Peduto's) focus is on the families.

Fitzgerald said that although he wouldn't meet Tuesday with Trump, "if the President wishes to come next week, or the next, that's something we can look at."

Former Tree of Life Rabbi Chuck Diamond also would rather have the President visit later, he told CNN's Don Lemon.

"I would just ask the President please, please, if it's not too late, put it off a week," Diamond said. "Any president that would come in, any president would be a distraction.

"And President Trump, he's so divisive and there's such strong feelings on all sides, it will be a distraction," he said. "And that upsets me the most because the focus has to be on the victims and has to be on comforting the family and also the city. The city needs time to grieve."

Pro athletes and ordinary people extend support

Support for those directly impacted has swelled in the massacre's wake. An online fundraiser for the synagogue had raised $825,000 toward its $1 million goal by Tuesday morning.

Sports fans will share a moment of silence for the victims Tuesday when the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the New York Islanders at the PPG Paints Arena. The hockey team will also wear "Stronger Than Hate" patches on their uniforms and hold a collection at the game to benefit victims and victims' families.

Outreach efforts also have extended to first responders. Those injured in the shooting include police officers, two of whom remain hospitalized.

The walls of the Zone 4 police station, a few blocks from the Tree of Life synagogue, were covered in handwritten notes from residents after the shooting, the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department said Monday in a series of Twitter posts . People also came by to "deliver food and hugs for the officers," the department said.

More than 500 people from different faiths, races, backgrounds and communities gathered to memorialize the victims Monday at the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg, about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, CNN affiliate KDKA reported .

Everyone must "work together to make our differences, our strengths and promote love, dignity and respect," Carlotta Paige, co-chair of the Westmoreland County Diversity Coalition, told the crowd.

Suspected shooter could face death penalty

Bowers, the suspected gunman, made his first court appearance Monday .

He faces at least 29 federal charges, including 11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, plus 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder. A conviction on any could be punishable by death, US Attorney Scott Brady of the Western District of Pennsylvania said.

Brady has initiated the process to seek the death penalty, though Attorney General Jeff Sessions must ultimately give the OK to pursue it, the Justice Department said.

Bowers was detained without bond. His next court date is Thursday.

Sessions in an address Monday in Boston labeled the assault a "murderous rampage."

"This was not just an attack on the Jewish faith," he said. "It was attack on all people of faith, and it was an attack on America's values of protecting those of faith. It cannot, it will not, be tolerated."

Weeks before the shooting, Bowers posted anti-Semitic slurs, complained that Trump was surrounded by too many Jewish people and blamed Jews for helping migrant caravans in Central America on the social media platform known as Gab .

Bowers also posted pictures of his handgun collection. Bowers has 21 guns registered to his name, said US Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat whose district includes Squirrel Hill.

Police said Bowers used a Colt AR-15 rifle and three Glock .357 handguns during the attack. He legally purchased the three Glock .357s, a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told CNN. It's not clear whether the AR-15 was purchased legally.

Hours before the shooting, Bowers posted about Trump. Minutes before allegedly storming inside the building, he logged onto Gab again and wrote to his followers.

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