The Darkest Day: An Exact Detail of the Mass Shooting in the Pittsburgh Synagogue "Tree of Life"

The Darkest Day: An Exact Detail of the Mass Shooting in the Pittsburgh Synagogue "Tree of Life"

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Gray clouds hang low, and the morning rain changes from fog to drizzle and back – not unusual from the autumnal fall in Pittsburgh. Some people are preparing for a Pitt football game in the afternoon at Heinz Field. Many do errands or go on weekends.

Father and daughter walk in a sporting goods store in McCandless Crossing in the North Hills. Gears at a nearby Trader Joe's are growing increasingly crowded as people shop early for shopping. Parking in the Strip District is hard to find at 9:30 am, although the South Side can fall asleep to sleep after a Friday night.

In the East End, Squirrel Hill wakes up and starts buzzing with activity. Listen to the cafes. People go, some with their dogs. Many in the Jewish center of the city go to the Saturday Shabbat service – or plan later.

Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers arrives in Tree of Life, a community he had run for over a year. Cecil and David Rosenthal greeted him.

It would not be a typical Saturday in the Wilkins Avenue Synagogue without "The Boys" – as the brothers are lovingly called. 54-year-old David Rosenthal carefully arranges prayer books and cloths for worship. Cecil Rosenthal, five years older and the more open-minded of the two, serves as a helper.

For decades, the brothers, who have been affected by cognitive challenges but have never been slowed down, play games in their neighborhood and synagogue where they help before, during and after the service.

"God broke the mold that made Cecil and David," Myers later said.

The rabbi continues and greets other regulars – such as Joyce Fienberg and Irv Younger – before preparing for his morning service.

People leave flowers and take a moment to remember the eleven people who were killed on Monday, October 28, 2018, at the mass shooting in the Tree of Life community. Tribune Review Photo by Nate Smallwood.


On Saturdays, the concrete building with its characteristic stained-glass windows houses three services for three communities at the same time.

The Sabbath service for Tree of Life, a 154-year-old church with roots in Pittsburgh, begins at 9:45 am. At the same time, the New Light Congregation begins its own service on the ground floor.

A Torah study service for Dor Hadash usually begins 15 minutes later.

This Saturday, October 27, 2018, this service would never begin.

Serenity broke

Stephen Weiss was not supposed to be in town to visit a relative, but an illness destroyed the journey. At the last minute, he agrees to help with a service at Tree of Life, where he has been a member for 29 years. (1)

Barry Werber prefers New Light on Friday night or Sunday. Saturday is the season or the death anniversary of his mother. He wears her wedding ring on the same finger as his own. (2)

As he walks into the synagogue, Werber of Stanton Heights walks past a table filled with wine glasses and a bottle of whiskey, probably for a newborn boy bris. (3)

The new easy rabbi Jonathan Perlman is down with Melvin Wax and Caroline Black. In the kitchen her brother Richard Gottfried and his colleague Daniel Stein prepare food. (3)

It is 9:45 in the morning. Wax, 88, starts the service. Werber followed in his prayer book.

Weiss sits in the last row of the Tree of Life chapel on the ground floor.

In addition to Rabbi Myers is E. Joseph Charny, a 90-year-old retired psychiatrist from Squirrel Hill, and a woman who reads scriptures for worship. (3)

On 27 October 2018, people react at the scene of a mass shooting in a synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Tribune Review Photo by Nate Smallwood.


At about this time, Deane Root and his wife Rabbi Doris Dyen leave home and drive straight up Shady Avenue to the Tree of Life. For a decade, the couple has been singing and discussing Jewish texts on Saturday morning with members of Dor Hadash, a small community that leases space in the synagogue.

For Root, the Sabbath is a day to gather "for reflection, prayer, spiritual inquiry, and the study of three millennia of texts and their relevance to our lives today."

However, this Sabbath would be anything but uplifting.

Someone known to speak anti-Jewish sentiments will be posting on social media at 09:49. "I can not sit and watch my people being slaughtered," the message says. "Screw your optics, I'm going in."

Behind the post stands Robert Bowers, a Baldwin Township trucker with no criminal record. He gets out of his car and enters Tree of Life. He carries a semi-automatic Colt AR-15 rifle and three Glock.3357 handguns, the authorities say.

It's about 9:50 am – at the same time Root and Dyen move to the parking lot.

You hear a loud noise at once, like the flourishing of earthmoving machines – something that is not unusual for Squirrel Hill, even if it's not normal on a Saturday morning.

Root and his wife, both formally trained in music, notice the tempo of the five or six separate, but loud, slightly muffled bumps. However, they can not see the cause or direction from which they originated.

Inside, Weiss and others hear about it in the Tree of Life service – a loud sound coming from the direction of the lobby. Two people start to check it – 10 in the service, the minimum to continue.

Myers says an elderly member of a congregation accidentally dumped a metal wardrobe. From behind you can see three men from Dor Hadash walking down the stairs. (4)

The participants hug each other while the seats in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and the museum are filled. On Sunday, October 28, 2018, the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh is holding a vigil organized by the Jewish Federation in Oakland.


Werber hears the same sound and thinks someone with the glasses and the whiskey has hit the table. He opens the door to look. The Air Force veteran knows they are in trouble.

A body lies on the steps.

Root and Dyen go to the main entrance. Broken glass covers the sidewalk. Root notices holes in a piece of glass and believes that this must be the work of vandals.

"Wait a minute, those holes are too big for BBs," he notes quickly.

The couple again hear a staccato of the same loud, reverberating sounds.

"Run," Root turns and calls his wife.

"We have an active shooter"

Weiss now recognizes the sound as gunfire.

A burst becomes two, three, more than ten.

Although he has never heard of a gun being fired, Myers is also sure of what it is. (4)

He orders his congregation to come down. "Do not say a word Do not move." (5)

Myers grabs three people near him and shoves them to an exit or closet to hide. The rabbi returns to try and cower people behind old, thick oak benches. The gunfire, however, gets louder as the shooter gets closer. Myers has to go. (4)

Weiss fears the sound of the rifle fire, but the training begins with the active target practice that he went through in the synagogue the year before.

He and others go behind the area of ​​the chapel. Some are trying to see if the other communities in the building know what's going on. Weiss goes through the nearby sanctuary without seeing the shooter.

Charny watches as a man with a "big gun" enters the room and shoots four people. "Get out of here or die," he screams. He and the reader escape to the third floor and hide. (3)

Myers runs behind the sanctuary, but thinks better of getting out of the building. The exit route could bring him within sight of the shooter, he notes. (5)

He dials 911 as he desperately scurries up to the choir floor to find a place to hide. (4) (5)

"We have an active shooter in the building," says the rabbi quickly out of breath of the person at the other end of the call.

Dispatch, 9:54 am: 5898 Wilkins Ave. The complainant stated that he had an active shooter in the building. A second call says they are being attacked. They have shotguns. Several shots can be heard in the lobby, possibly 20 to 30 shots. "

At 9:55 am, Zone 5 police officer Jason Lando says he's in the area on Forbes Avenue and Wightman Street – less than a mile from the Tree of Life.

Officers Daniel Mead and Michael Midga from Zone 4 Police Station are also on their way.

Myers listens as the shooter executes his congregation below.

"My husband was shot," shouts Bernice Simon. (5)

The shooter shoots again.

Bernice (84) and Sylvan Simon (86) die in the synagogue where they marry. The couple Wilkinsburg married in December 1956 at Tree of Life by candlelight.

Myers slips into a nearby bathroom. The door has no lock, so he holds it and pray that the shooter will not find it. (5)

A student from the Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh Girls School cries on Monday, October 29, 2018, as she and others pray and sing in front of the Tree of Life Congregation. On Saturday, eleven people were shot dead in the synagogue. Tribune review photo by Kristina Serafini.


He's delivering whispering updates to 911 for almost an hour.

Myers is considering making a video recording for his wife. He is not sure if he can get it out alive. (5)

Dispatch: "… people in the synagogue fled to different parts of the building and are housed there. … "

Rabbi Perlman realizes that an armed man is in the building, and hurries to recruit Werber, Mel Wax and Caroline Black to the rear of the chapel and through the swinging doors of a storage room. The rabbi continues through another exit to get help. (3)

Advertiser, Wax and Black are left behind in the dark.

After a short while there is a break while shooting. Wachs, who is wearing hearing aids but still can not hear well, pushes the door open. The shooter shoots three shots, hits Wax and pushes his body to the floor of the storeroom. (3)

Black is crouching on the floor next to the door. Werber pushes his body against the wall. (7)

The shooter comes through the door. A ray of light penetrates the darkness. He steps over Wax's body and looks around. Werber notices the shooter's jacket, shirt and trousers. He also sees the rifle and fears he is the next one. This is the scariest moment in his 76 years of life. (2)

When he sees none of them in the dark room, the shooter steps back over Wax and leaves.

"Thank goodness," says Werber.

He checks the pulse of Wax. There is none, Werber says about his flip phone. He says he saw the shooter, but he had not seen her in the dark. A call taker from the County Emergency Center keeps him on the line. She assures Werber that help is on the way.

"Get back in your car"

Root and Dyen run to their car, where they call 911. His first attempt fails. His second comes through. It's 9:56.

Get out and do not let anyone go in, says an emergency dispatcher.

Other members of their community arrive for their service at 10 o'clock.

"Get in your car and go!", Root and Dyen call out of their window. "There is an active shooter."

Seymour "Sy" Drescher, a retired college professor, moves in and gets out.

"Sy, get back in your car," cries Root.

Drescher immediately jumps back in his car.

A SWAT team member sets out on 27 October 2018 for a mass shooting in a synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Tribune Review Photo by Nate Smallwood.


Police screech to the scene. Mead and Midga are two of the first to arrive.

Root and his wife drive to the side of the synagogue on Shady Avenue. They feel the need to stay close and see what happens. He's sobbing because he knows people.

Including Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, a long-time family doctor; and Daniel Leger, a nurse and a UPMC chaplain; and another member – three men who always arrived first to build Dor Hadash services and then help.

The couple watches as the custodian Augie Siriano comes out of the synagogue through an emergency exit on Shady Avenue. He is in shock, cold and afraid to stand in the rain without a coat. But he is unhurt.

"If you have a vehicle, get out," orders another Officer Root and others in the area.

Police: "Nobody goes near Wilkins Avenue because they can shoot you."

Mead, 55, wears a ballistic vest and is armed with his pistol. He runs to the front of Tree of Life – where he meets the gunman as he tries to leave the synagogue.

An officer radio at 9:58: "We are under attack, we are under attack. He has an automatic weapon. He shoots us out of the synagogue. "

There follows a short shootout. Mead is shot in the left hand.

Either fragments of broken glass or a bullet smite Smidga, 39, who grew up near Ligonier. A paramedic on the scene treats the injury to his right ear.

At 09:59, Lando returns to the radio. "Every available unit in the city has to come here now. All units hold a perimeter, we take AK-47 fire from the front of the synagogue. "

The injured officers hide behind their vehicle near the intersections of Shady and Wilkins. Someone is calling for city and county SWAT teams.

At 10 o'clock in the morning Lando shouts: "We are held down by shots. He fires from the building with an automatic weapon. "

The police set up a command center on Murray Avenue, between Solway Street and Wilkins. Officers surround the building. SWAT team servers arrive from all directions.

You park your SUV near Wilkins and Negley Avenues. He takes off green tactical gear and pulls himself onto the sidewalk, then runs to the synagogue with a semi-automatic rifle.

Several Pittsburgh police cruisers and officers in patrol uniform are scattered along Wilkins Avenue towards the Tree of Life. There are no residents outside. The street is quiet except for ambulances and police sirens.

A group of Taylor Allderdice high school students who organized the picket sang at the beginning of the event at the corner of Murray Ave / Forbes Ave at Squirrel Hill on October 27, 2018. Tribune review photo by Nate Smallwood.


SWAT prepares to enter the building. A few 10-man teams report that they are ready.

"We sent an officer back, three shots. Maybe the actor hit, copy, "announces a dispatcher at 10:20.

A few minutes later, it is reported that the shooter "wears a green vest or jacket, that he has a gun around his neck. That's all we know, "says one officer.

At 10:29 SWAT teams are at the door and can start.

Officers immediately ask for help in evacuating people.

"We have a used magazine that looks like a high-performance AK in the middle hallway," says a SWAT operator.

An elderly couple is found alive and hiding in a small anteroom near the front. SWAT shifts her out of the building.

At 10:36 in the morning, a SWAT operator reports that he found four bodies in the atrium. A woman with a gunshot wound is leaning over a dead body. (6)

"I have one alive," an officer radio equipment.

Andrea Wedner, 61, is the only known woman who has survived a gunshot wound in attack. Her mother, Rose Mallinger, 97, died.

A survivor gives the police more information about the shooter: "It's a strong white man in a coat. He is unshaven, "says an officer.

At 10:40, officers discover more victims.

"I also have four victims, four victims, an atrium on the second floor in front of the entrance hall," reports a SWAT operator. "A total of eight. One was saved at that time. "

SWAT operators clean up the first floor, but have not got the marksmen yet The search goes down to the basement, where Werber and Black stay in the dark storeroom.

The door opens and light comes in again. A SWAT member is here to bring her to safety. (5)

It's 10:43. Werber had phoned 911 for 44 minutes.

"We have rifle cases with blood here," says a SWAT member from the basement.

Still without signs of the shooter, the search goes to the third floor.

SWAT finally finds Myers and gets him out of the building. A white and blue prayer cloth, still around his neck, waves after him as he runs across the street. (4)

"Shots fired, shots fired"

At 10:54, the carnage continues.

"Contact, contact, shots fired, shots fired," someone yells into his radio. In the background you can hear loud bangs. Someone screams.

Flowers and notes are meant to commemorate the 11 people who were killed on Monday, October 28, 2018 during the mass shootings in the Tree of Life meeting. Tribune Review Photo by Nate Smallwood.


SWAT members finally meet the shooter who is barricaded on the third floor. He opens the fire.

SWAT rider Timothy Matson had completed seven laps while shooting.

One passenger pulls him out of the room and another takes off his protective gear and helmet before carrying him down. Within 20 seconds of being shot, an emergency medical professional is working to save his life. (6)

"Shots fired, give me extra resources – additional resources to the third floor."

Another voice comes from the radio: "We have a man who barricades and actively shoots at SWAT operators. There is a driver's shot. I got an operator shot at this point. "

SWAT operator Anthony Burke was shot in the arm.

And then calm.

Five seconds, 10 seconds. 30 seconds, one minute. It's static – someone attacks his radio, but does not speak.

Several buildings in downtown Pittsburgh will be lit Wednesday evening, October 31, 2018, in honor of eleven Jewish victims killed Saturday by an armed man on the Tree of Life congregation in Squirrel Hill. Tribune Review Photo by Shane Dunlap.


Finally someone speaks.

"We have eyes on the door. We met an operator, high in the arm, we have a tourniquet. That's all I have now. When I came out of the room, there were still shots, I think he's still alive. "

At 11 o'clock it starts again.

"Several shots fired, several shots fired."

More long and tense silence, then: "I need an IV bag."

Within minutes, the SWAT operators began communicating with the shooter.

"He was ordered to crawl out, crawl out, he has not done it," someone says.

Robert Bowers gives his name and date of birth. His surrender is under way.

At 11:08, Bowers gives up his weapons and crawls on the floor to the police. He is hurt and bleeding.

"The suspect speaks of" All these Jews must die "," a SWAT operator radio.

It is 11.13 clock. Bowers is in custody.

Mayor Bill Peduto would soon convene these 83 minutes of horror at Tree of Life, killing eleven lost souls, six and one city forever changed the "darkest day" of Pittsburgh history.

The Tribune review reporting material will be displayed without quotation marks. Other quoted articles and video interviews: (1) NBC News; (2) CBS Evening News; (3) the New York Times; (4) CNN; (5) Today Show; (6) ABC World News Tonight; (7) Associated Press

Jason Cato is a news editor for the Tribune Review. You can contact him at 724-850-1289 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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