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Oct. 27, 2018 / 3:00 PM GMT
By Kalhan Rosenblatt, Tom Winter and Jonathan Dienst
A suspect was in custody on Saturday morning after a fatal shooting with multiple casualties near the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where Sabbath services were taking place, according to local officials.
At least 12 people were injured, three of whom appeared to be law enforcement and at least eight of which were fatalities, according to preliminary information from multiple senior law enforcement officials.
It is believed the suspect was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and multiple handguns.
Congregants told MSNBC that a circumcision celebration, known as a bris, was taking place in the synagogue this morning.
Pittsburgh Public Safety tweeted on Saturday morning that there was an active shooter in the area around the synagogue and said to avoid the area. Pittsburgh Police Commander Jason Lando said there were multiple casualties.
Jeff Finkelstein, CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh since 2004, told NBC News affiliate WPXI that he rushed to the area when he heard about the shooting.
“I just feel horrible for all those people inside,” Finkelstein said. “You know, everyone thinks about Israel in situations like this. It’s just shocking to come back to Squirrel Hill and see something like this.”
Rabbi Chuck Diamond, a former spiritual leader of Tree of Life, told reporters that he never spoke to his congregation about what to do during a shooting, but it’s something he thought about.
“There’s a lot of anti-Semitism out there and a lot of hate out there,” Diamond said. “Sobering that it’s touched our community.”
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Pittsburgh field office were also responding to the shooting incident.
“There is an active shooter near the Tree of Life in Squirrel Hill. Residents, please stay indoors. Our officers are on the scene,” Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor wrote on Twitter.
President Trump tweeted about the shooting on Saturday, saying that he was keeping an eye on the unfolding events in Squirrel Hill.
“People in Squirrel Hill area should remain sheltered. Looks like multiple fatalities. Beware of active shooter. God Bless All!” Trump wrote.
He later tweeted, “Events in Pittsburgh are far more devastating than originally thought. Spoke with Mayor and Governor to inform them that the Federal Government has been, and will be, with them all the way.”
Vice President Mike Pence also tweeted his prayers to the victims and said he was also monitoring the situation.
“Monitoring reports of shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Praying for the fallen, the injured, all the families impacted, and our courageous first responders,” Pence wrote. “God bless them all.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted that Pennsylvania State Police were also assisting with the shooting.
“We are still learning details about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh but it is a serious situation … keep the congregants and law enforcement in your prayers,” Wolf wrote.
In New York City and Baltimore, police said they were stepping up security at synagogues and houses of worship. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said police were stepping up patrols around places of worship.
Shabbat morning services began at 9:45 a.m. at Tree of Life Congregation, which is in close proximity to Carnegie Mellon University, according to its website. The Conservative congregation was founded more than 150 years ago and is led by Rabbi Hazan Jeffrey Myers, who came to the synagogue in August 2017.
Saturday mornings are when Shabbat is observed in the Jewish faith and is typically a busy time at synagogues.
Squirrel Hill is considered a historic Jewish enclave and center for Jewish life in Pittsburgh, and it is considered home to more than a quarter of Jewish households in the Pittsburgh-area, according to a Brandeis University study of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community. More than 80 percent of Squirrel Hill residents said they had some concern or were very concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism. Many also reported incidents of anti-Semitic experiences in the past year, from insults and stereotypes to physical threats or attacks, according to the study.
This is a developing news story. Check back for more information.
Phil McCausland contributed.