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Multiple Deaths in Mass Shooting at Pittsburgh Jewish Synagogue; Trump Weighs in on Synagogue Shooting; Pittsburgh Authorities Hold Press Conference on Mass Shooting; Synagogue Shooting Suspect in Custody; Allegheny County Executive Spoke to Reporters on Shooting. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 27, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:01:04] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR; Hello, again, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in New York. Thank you for being with me this Saturday.
We start with this breaking news. Ongoing situation, a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. We're learning of multiple deaths.
CNN's Nick Valencia is tracking the story.
Nick, what more are you learning? This does remain an active shooter scene, correct, even though one person is in custody?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a live scene. Law enforcement continuing to sweep around the synagogue to make sure there are no other threats, devices, things like that. It's believed that this gunman acted alone.
Here we are on Saturday, the busiest day of any synagogue, talking about a mass shooting at the Tree of Life, a high concentration of the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill, there at Pittsburgh.
Here's what we can tell you at this hour. According to law enforcement sources who tell us, told our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, at least 12 people have been shot. We can confirm at least four people have been killed as a result of this shooting. We should expect that number to go up. At least three police officers were also injured in what was likely an exchange of gunfire with the suspect.
That suspect has been described as a white male. He is in custody. As of last hour, was transported to a local area hospital with unspecified injuries.
We mentioned at the top of this report it's still a live scene with investigators continuing to sweep that area. What we know of the alleged gunman is, again, according to our Shimon Prokupecz, who we'll hear from shortly, this gunman was making anti-Semitic remarks during the shooting. We're working to verify what he said. But according to reports right now, Fredricka, he had an extensive anti-Semitic social media profile. We're working at CNN to confirm those reports.
We heard just a short time ago, within the last 30 minutes, President Donald Trump making comments about this just before he boarded Air Force One. The first lady has tweeted about this. So has the Vice President Mike Pence. The governor of Pennsylvania arrived in Pittsburgh last hour. And we can report that Special agents with the ATF have arrived on the scene to assist local, state and federal resources as well.
The past president of the Tree of Life estimated that there could have been upwards of 100 people in that synagogue at the time of the shooting. This is according to his estimates. He says there were competing services happening. The services happening at 9:45 this morning, according to the Web site, Tree of Life. The first reports we got here of CNN got of an active shooting came in shortly after 10:20, so roughly 30, 35 minutes after services started, that shooting was reported.
The president last hour making comments here just before he boarded Air Force One saying, quote, "This is a terrible thing going on with hate in our country."
I mentioned that the shooter made some anti-Semitic remarks. We should expect that this shooting that's left 12 people shot, four dead and three officers injured, will perhaps be investigated as a hate crime -- Fredricka?
WHITFIELD: All right, Nick Valencia, keep us posted. Thank you so much.
Nick mentioned President Trump weighing in on this deadly shooting moments ago, calling it a terrible thing. He was about to board Air Force One and spoke a little bit more than his previous tweets.
Let's check in with our CNN White House reporter, Sarah Westwood.
So, Sarah, is there a way to kind of summarize the messaging coming from the president?
SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fred, President Trump, when speaking to reporters for the first time since news of the shooting broke, offered a few of his own suggestions for how to prevent future tragedies like this. Although, he didn't get into the specifics of the shooting that happened today. He said he had spoken to the governor of Pennsylvania. He'd spoken to the mayor.
But one of the solutions that he threw out when pressed by reporters was perhaps adding armed guards to soft targets like the synagogue where the shooting took place. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[13:05:04] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This would be a case where if there was an armed guard inside, they would have been able to stop him immediately. So this would be case for if there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him. Maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him, frankly.
It's a very, very - a very difficult situation. And when you look at is, if you look at it through a --
TRUMP: -- again, if they had somebody to protect people. Now, isn't a shame you even have to speak that way? Isn't it a shame we have to think of that inside of a temple or inside of a church? But certainly, the results might have been --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WESTWOOD: Now, the president also suggested strengthening the death penalty could be one way to respond to this shooting. He said he would make a more complete statement when he stops at a farmer's event in Indiana. He does have a campaign rally in Illinois on his schedule tonight. And the White House has given no indication of whether he plans to cancel that rally as those can get pretty partisan. And now it's really a moment for the president to be a consoler-in-chief, to sort of rise above partisan politics. It remains to be seen whether there will be adjustments to his schedule and what kind of response we'll see from the president when he lands in Indiana -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: Sarah Westwood, thank you very much, from that Future Farmers of America event the president will be attending.
Joining me now on the phone is CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, Jeff Finkelstein.
Mr. Finkelstein, earlier, I heard you say, you know, I am just sad. But at the same time, now might be time for considerations about how to make the synagogues safer. What are your thoughts right now?
JEFF FINKELSTEIN, CEO, JEWISH FEDERATION OF GREATER PITTSBURGH (via telephone): Thank you.
I'm standing here just two blocks away from the Tree of Life Congregation with lots of members of our political leadership, including the mayor, the governor, et cetera. And, you know, right now, I'm not prepared to talk about additional security. Now it's just thinking about all the congregants who were in there, those who were injured and the families of those who may have perished. You know, we'll think about that as time goes forward.
WHITFIELD: Talk to me about what people are thinking and feeling right now. What is your heart telling you in all this?
FINKELSTEIN: So I've cried a bit. Got a hug from the mayor, from some of our politicians, from the state, federal, and I just cry each time. I'm sure the people who have been impacted are people I either know or met during my tenure here. This is real. This is not just a story I read in the newspaper, see on the news. This is now real. This is my worst nightmare. WHITFIELD: I heard you say earlier this is not your synagogue. You
were not a regular member. But the synagogue is a member of a family of synagogues there in the Pittsburgh area and so this is personal for you and for everyone.
FINKELSTEIN: Yes I live probably seven-tenths of a mile from here and this is a very tight Jewish community. And so this is this is -- this is family.
WHITFIELD: Right now, this is still considered an active shooter scene. One person is in custody. There's been a variation of sentiments and reports that this person has a digital footprint, a history of anti-Semitism. That the Tree of Life Synagogue has in the past been targeted by anti-Semitic behavior. Talk to me about what kind of protections or what you feel needs to be put in place now for all of the surrounding area synagogues.
FINKELSTEIN: We, at the Jewish Federation, over the last two years, have looked at hardening facilities. We've conducted multiple trainings under our new Jewish security director.
And I'm sorry, I'm going to have to run right now. I'm being called by some people.
WHITFIELD: OK. Quickly, Mr. Finkelstein, before I let you go, you heard the president who talked about perhaps it's time to stiffen laws, death penalty --
FINKELSTEIN: OK, I'm sorry, I really have to go right now. I apologize.
WHITFIELD: OK, all right, Jeff Finkelstein, really appreciate it.
He's the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
[13:09:54] We're going to take a short break. Again, active shooter scene there in Pittsburgh. One person in custody. Twelve, in all, shot, four confirmed deaths, and three police officers injured.
We'll be right back.
WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in New York.
I want to take you straight to Pittsburgh for an update on the shooting at a synagogue.
WILLIAM PEDUTO, (D), PITTSBURGH MAYOR: -- everybody in Pennsylvania, these were our neighbors. These were fellow Pennsylvanians. An incredibly sad day.
I want to thank the first responders for doing what they've done to make us safe and to respond so quickly, so effectively to this tragedy.
I want to turn it over to Wendell.
WENDELL HISSRICH, PITTSBURGH PUBLIC SAFETY DIRECTOR: Wendell Hissrich, city of Pittsburgh public safety director.
As the mayor mentioned, we've had a tragedy here today. The work of the first responders has probably prevented it from becoming much more tragedy than what it is. The scene is very bad inside. There are multiple fatalities. There are at least six injuries to include four police officers. The police officers' injuries at this time are nonlife threatening. The other individuals are critical and serious in nature. They were taken to three of the level-1, level-2 trauma centers in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny General, UPMC and UPMC -- UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Mercy.
[13:15:08] At this time, I'd like to say that we have established a phone number with the assistance of the FBI for any questions from victims' families. That number is 412-432-4400. Once again, it's 412-432-4400. A victim's assistance and reunification center has been set up at Chatham College on Chatham campus at Barry Hall, at 106 Barry Street. We will have grief counselors there as well as the Red Cross. Please allow about half an hour for the final plans on establishment of that center. However, there are individuals working to have it up and running as soon as possible.
A further press conference will be held at the County Emergency Operations Center at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon of which the elected officials and first responders will give you, as well as the FBI, will give you an update. At this time, this is being considered a federal violation and the primary investigative agency will be the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
I would like to personally thank the many first responders that have responded to this incident today, to include the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, EMS, Allegheny County Police and FBI, ATF and numerous others that I don't even -- can't even count how many first responders are here that are providing assistance.
This will be a lengthy crime scene. We're asking people that don't need to be in this area, please stay away from it so both the investigators and first responders can do their job.
I will emphasize at this time there appears to be no active threat to the community. This individual that we believe the subject that is responsible for this has been taken into custody.
That's all I have
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you go over what happened?
HISSRICH: I don't. That's going to be part of the investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you give the numbers?
HISSRICH: On the injuries, we believe six injuries, four of which are police officers. It's a total of six injuries.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How many -- (INAUDIBLE)
HISSRICH: I will not discuss that yet until we are sure of the number.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)
HISSRICH: I don't want to get into that at this point.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)
HISSRICH: There's a lot of information. I'd be very cautious what you hear and what you don't hear at this time. Like I say, we have numerous investigators here. I would ask if anyone has information regarding the investigation, that they also call that 412-432-4400 number and that will put you in contact with the FBI.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Wendell, can you tell us what the situation was in there? How many people that were inside --
HISSRICH: I don't have that answer.
HISSRICH: I do not want to give you -- my understanding is there was a service occurring.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- affected people in Squirrel Hill, leave their houses?
HISSRICH: That is correct. However, we are sitting up a very hard perimeter around the crime scene. We ask individuals to stay away from that. There will be a secure presence around the crime scene just to protect the integrity of the investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- weapons recovered off this person?
HISSRICH: I don't want to get into that.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You believe he acted alone?
HISSRICH: I don't want to get into that. But what we have is one subject in custody from the scene. Whether or not, all these investigations, you know, we have to look into every imaginable fact to find out if there's anyone else that's been involved in it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- a bomb?
HISSRICH: I'm sorry? UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there any evidence of a bomb?
HISSRICH: There's not. Teams went through the scene and there's no evidence of any IEDs or any further threat.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: For a moment there you sounded very emotional, a hand was placed on your shoulder. Tell me how you feel now?
HISSRICH: It's a very horrific crime scene. One of the worst I've seen. And I've been on some plane crashes. It's very bad.
All right, so --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)
HISSRICH: I don't want to get into that. Like I say, there's a very active investigation going on right now.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you identified him?
HISSRICH: I'm sorry?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What will we hear from at 4:00?
HISSRICH: You'll hear from myself, the ASSAC, special agent in charge, the FBI, the U.S. attorney as well as the elected officials.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A lot of moving parts today. What's the next step?
HISSRICH: The next step is secure the crime scene. The FBI has both assets from both western Pennsylvania and from D.C. en route here. So they will be running the investigation and the crime scene with the support of both the Allegheny County Police and the City of Pittsburgh Police.
[13:20:10] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- actually attended the synagogue?
HISSRICH: I have no idea.
I'd like to mention the state police. They've been instrumental in helping out as well.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Six people or at least six?
HISSRICH: As far as the injuries, right now we're at six injuries.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you identify the gunman?
HISSRICH: It's an active investigation. Obviously, we know who the gunman is, but I'm not going to bring that up now.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why are the feds conducting the investigation? HISSRICH: As I mentioned before, this falls under a hate crime.
Being it's a Jewish synagogue. So it will be basically a federal investigation with the assistant of the locals, county and state police.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Was the shooter among those injured?
HISSRICH: The shooter was taken to the hospital. I'll leave it at that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, folks.
HISSRICH: Thank you very much.
WHITFIELD: A very emotional director of Pittsburgh public safety, Wendell Hissrich, saying, quoting, "It's a horrific crime scene, one of the worst I've seen." He started off saying the scene is bad.
Six injured including four police officers. He won't confirm the number of dead. But he also underscored that this is a federal violation. Now federal teams will lead this investigation. It is a hate crime, that which took place at this place of worship, a synagogue, right there in Pittsburgh.
We also know the name of the shooter, which the director there did not want to even utter the name.
But CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, you know the identity of the suspect. They're saying they do believe this is no longer an active crime scene.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Right.
WHITFIELD: Tell us about the shooter.
PROKUPECZ: I think it's important for folks and certainly people in that community right now who are probably on edge to know that it's safe for them. The police went through the building. They searched it. They did not find any explosives, no other shooters. Now comes, obviously, the sad part, mourning part. Really this is where the FBI and their experts start processing the crime scene.
As to the shooter, the man in custody, police have him. He'll now obviously be in FBI custody because they're taking over the investigation because this is a hate crime. His name is Robert Bowers. He's 46 years old. That is essentially all we know about him. His car is on the scene so police are processing that. The FBI will process his car. So at least they have an idea of how he got there. He drove his car. There are weapons on the scene, so they'll process the weapons. There's more than one.
Also from what I've heard is there are some heroic acts here by the police officers there in intercepting him and perhaps causing -- stopping this from being far worst.
Really, my heart goes out to the public safety director because you can tell that is a horrific scene. Imagine for law enforcement officials -- and I went through this in Orlando and went through this in Connecticut and we go through this in a lot of these shootings -- is what these law enforcement officers and officials have to go through when they get inside these screens. It's horrific to see all of the blood and bodies. Then you always hear about -- probably won't be in this case -- but when loved ones are trying to get in contact with people or in locations and cell phones are ringing. So you can only imagine what the folks in that community right now are going through. And that really should be the focus
We're going to know why this guy did it. Law enforcement already knows why. They're going through all of his social media. They have a very good idea as to what led to this, his beliefs certainly. We'll see. The FBI will go in and the crime scene begins to get processed. And the community will have to deal with this now.
WHITFIELD: Also with me right now, Josh Campbell, CNN legal analyst and former New York City prosecutor, Paul Callan, also CNN law enforcement analyst, Art Roderick.
Paul, let me go to you first.
Mr. Hissrich made it clear, it's now a federal investigation, being led by, the federal investigation, FBI. There will be federal charges. You hear the information here. While there are different circumstances, you can't help but think about the Charleston shooting back in 2015, nine people killed, how it became a federal hate crime investigation, which led to the conviction of Dylann Roof. What parallels do you see here? And how federal authorities will go about this hate crime at this synagogue in Pittsburgh?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I see a direct comparison. I had a chance to look at the indictment handed down in the case. It was an indictment involving federal hate crimes. But there's a section of law, Title 18, Section 247, that involves the obstruction of persons in the exercise of their religious beliefs. Of course, that we would have in the synagogue. If you kill somebody in obstructing them, that is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty, depending upon the circumstances of the case. You'll remember that horrific case in Charleston, South Carolina, Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, was eventually convicted of having killed, I believe, nine individuals after a trial. The jury was out for about two hours and he was convicted. These are very serious charges.
We also could expect, by the way, that state charges might also be brought. That's actually legal. The feds can bring their set of charges and Pennsylvania authorities might opt to bring charges as well. So I think we see that going down the road.
[13:25:43] WHITFIELD: Josh, all of this taking place while there are multiple investigations going on. We still have the ongoing investigation of these now 13 pipe bombs mailed. One suspect in custody. Other incidents involving, you know, hate at another place of worship. You have this at this place of worship in Pittsburgh. Talk to me about allocating the resources. How these resources also help, how they work in concert to get to the bottom of all of these hate-laced crimes.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Fred, on a day like this, obviously, first and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families, the Jewish community.
I'm thinking about my former brothers and sisters in the FBI who are going to be taxed. They're working through the weekend. They have more than enough resources to handle these kinds of things. I just couldn't help but think as we listen to the press conference, right now, there are assets leaving Washington, D.C., that are heading to Pittsburgh from the FBI to assist. At the same time, the FBI has been receiving incendiary devices associated with the package bomb process. I think about the volume of activity going on there right now inside of the FBI laboratory in Quantico. Think about everything they're having to deal with right now processing all the scenes. Again, they have the resources, they have the capabilities, but that doesn't make it any easier.
In a situation like this in Pittsburgh, there's an FBI field office, not just a satellite office. They have resources on site. They'll likely be tapping into the Cleveland field office which appears to be the closest and as well as the resources from Washington, D.C., that will come in. Every FBI field office has an evidence response team. These are the people that show up, will process the scene, will take the photographs, collect the evidence. They essentially catalog everything they see, both for the investigation -- you want to find out what happened -- but also if all of this is eventually used as evidence in the prosecution. There's been a very methodical process for fluffing all that. That's all underway right now. As Shimon mentioned, these scenes can be so difficult for law enforcement officers --
WHITFIELD: Yes. Because somebody can't help but think about their own grandparents, their own children, their parents, sisters and brothers when they see the carnage, when they see the injured, when they see the dead. They think about their own families. And we're talking about places of worship, places where people would presume they are safe. And we've heard the issue, whether there should be the law enforcement security that every member meets as soon as they walk into a synagogue. We've heard from the leadership of the synagogue that while they didn't have that today, they do have presence on high holy days. But there are considerations now that a lot of that will change.
PROKUPECZ: Certainly, I want to go from what Josh said. There's all these active law enforcement measures going on. There's a lot of things that are going on behind the scenes. Probably at the FBI. I know like places like NYPD with an Intelligence Division, they're now out there trying to see is there anything, any kind of a new threat because of this? Because there's always concern for copycat attacks. Will this inspire someone else to go out and do this somewhere else? There's always concern on -- you know, we see this a lot in counterterrorism when there's some nexus to international terrorism. This is now happening in this country on a domestic terrorism level where the FBI has this type of concern. Where local law enforcements, certainly folks at the NYPD, have this kind of concern. And they're out there now. The NYPD, within the Intelligence Division, right now in this city, is out there, making sure that this doesn't happen here. So this is such a concern across the country right now. I mean, I can't say enough about it. It really is.
WHITFIELD: Art Roderick, there's a lot going on at once. Right in front of us, this synagogue shooting taking place in Pittsburgh. Investigators still want to know what led this person to do this. They do have a 46-year-old suspect. But it's also on the heels of a tumultuous week with these pipe bombs being sent across the country.
[13:30:00] Then you have, you know, there are other incidents that perhaps have not been in the forefront involving, you know, other hate-laced, you know, kinds of crimes. In Kentucky, you know, two African-Americans, you know, were shot heading into, you know, a place of prayer.
And then the president comes out today on his way to Air Force One. And he had comments about, you know, this crime is unfolding. He's learning more of it now. It seems worse than initially thought. He also went straight to, you know, now it's time to consider stiffer laws, the death penalty. And perhaps even challenging the synagogue, that had there been more security presence there than perhaps this shouldn't have happened. How does the president's message help or further complicate investigations?
ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I've got to tell you, Fred, I've been in law enforcement -- or was in law enforcement for almost 40 years. And 33 of those, 34 of those was as a criminal investigator. I can tell you that nothing that an elected politician says is going to affect the investigation. Now, having said that, it could affect the prosecution by tainting the jury pool. We've seen that happen in the past.
As far as the investigation goes, it's not going to affect what law enforcement is doing on the ground. Now, I can tell you, it's been a very hectic week. It's been a crazy week. When you look at the pipe bomb case. Luckily, the FBI has in its assets, the JTTF, of which there are 4,000 investigators assigned to the JTTF all around in the 102 JTTFs around the country that they can pull from. Those 4,000 investigators are made up of state, local -- I believe it's around 500 state and local agencies, but also 55 federal agencies. They're able to pull those assets in for that type of case to assist them. And also reach back to the agencies themselves if they need more assistance.
In the Pittsburgh case, this would probably be a strictly FBI-handled hate crime case. Unfortunately, law enforcement are used to doing multiple high-profile investigations, you know, on different fronts, whether it's terrorism, whether it's a hate crime or whether it's a homicide. So law enforcement is used to being pulled several different directions. But to have two of these cases this high profile in the country at this particular point in time almost intersecting together is unusual.
WHITFIELD: Yes, at least two. And not a coincidence in your view, but, you know, tantamount to a real sign of the times. RODERICK: Exactly. You're exactly right. I mean, hate crimes, you
know, every time we have a bombing situation, there's an uptick of reports to law enforcement regarding suspicious packages as we saw in Buffalo over the past couple of days, as we saw out in San Diego, out in L.A., in San Francisco. So these things do take a toll on law enforcement. I'm sure we'll have an uptick of reporting of suspicious persons at places of worship. Law enforcement is used to doing it. It does put a strain on their resources.
WHITFIELD: Yes, different circumstances, Josh.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right.
WHITFIELD: But there's some commonalties here. We're talking about hate, hate-inspired crimes.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. It just feels that ways in the country right now, right, this polarized tension. It seems different. We don't know the motivation here. That will be the subject of a lengthy investigation. Obviously, now with the FBI coming and assuming jurisdiction, they are treating it as a hate crime. This isn't just a murder statute. So they're looking at it for that purpose.
I want to say one thing just to foot stomp what Art was saying. So the FBI has about 13,000 special agents in the organization. Which you stop and think about it, that's nothing, right, to cover the whole country. When people say that the FBI's coming in to investigate, the FBI does not do it alone. They tap in to these partnerships that Art mentioned from law enforcement officers around the country, around the world. And right now, one -- as one example, one thing law enforcement officers will want to know is, was the subject known to law enforcement, did they know about him. There's a national criminal database. They also tap into these partnerships with law enforcement agencies around the country, do you have anything on this person, because they want to know. We always talk about partnerships, people say, oh, this is kumbaya, but it's so critical because you can help solve crime in short order.
WHITFIELD: Paul, while hate crimes based on religion might be more easily identifiable, people with more clarity understand, but what about those politically tinged crimes? Does that end up still being in the hate category that can inspire, you know, acts of hate?
[13:34:55] PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely. You know, circling back also to the president's comments, which, you know, as a prosecutor myself, you always worry that something is going to be done to interfere with the case. And here, I understand the president expressing sorrow, as we all have, over this horrific crime. But I do think it's a mistake to get into the specific issue of whether we should have armed guards in synagogues and churches across America. It seems to me that's interposing a political belief at a time when we don't even know how this shooting went down. I think it's a safer thing for a president to step back and keep his comments dignified and focused on the deaths until the investigation is complete.
WHITFIELD: The expectation largely is the president would be a consoler-in-chief.
The president did promise he's going to have a major statement. Those were his words. A major statement later on as he embarks on his trip to the Future Farmers of America.
You got a final thought, Shimon?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: I think the focus should be on the community and what these families are going through. And certainly now with law enforcement coming in and what they're going to have to do and really law enforcement all across the country -- as someone who covers law enforcement, it's not an easy time for them. They are working hard to prevent these kinds of things because they know it's an issue.
I would agree. I don't think the president helps the situation. Law enforcement realizes that. They'll never publicly say that. And they do feel like there's a problem in this country now and things need to be dialed down and not dialed up. And it seems, you know, with today's comments, that's not happening. Did not happen during certainly when these bombs were being sent around in the mail. Things were not deescalated. That is a concern, this escalation in this country right now. Law enforcement is dealing with it on an intelligence level trying to prevent these kinds of incidents.
WHITFIELD: Thank you, gentlemen. Really appreciate it.
We'll take a break for now. Again, this situation, the investigation still ongoing there in Pittsburgh in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood at the Tree of Life Synagogue where authorities did confirm, now that there were six injured, including four police officers, but they will not confirm the number of deaths, even though our sources are telling us at least four deaths. But you heard from the director of public safety there, the scene is bad.
We'll be right back.
[13:41:35] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. We continue to watch the developments there at that Pittsburgh synagogue where a shooting took place earlier. A singular shooter is in custody. And was taken to a hospital where he continued -- continues to be questioned.
In all, we understand that six people have been injured, including four police officers. Police will not confirm the number of deaths, but our sources telling CNN that four people have died from this shoot taking place earlier today.
Just moments ago, Rich Fitzgerald, the county executive of Allegheny County, spoke to reporters, listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICH FITZGERALD, COUNTY EXECUTIVE, ALLEGHENY COUNTY: This is shocking. These are our friends. These are our neighbors. And when this list of victims comes out, it's going to be people that we know. So I think you got the mayor who lives right here. Senator Costa. We all grew up here. Representative Frankel. You see the outpouring of the governor coming here immediately. It's just -- it's shocking. It's -- there's no words, quite frankly.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I know you've been briefed more than details than we have. We saw Wendell Hissrich, a veteran of crime scenes, almost break down. I can see it in your eyes right now that this scene must have been an awful, awful scene.
FITZGERALD: Again, this is -- these are our friends and neighbors. When you say hits close to home, that doesn't even begin to say it. So, you know, it's really -- it's hard to even -- you can't even put into words. I have no words to say. But, you know, we're all here just to try to support each other, support the families and support people who are going through something that -- unimaginable.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He was mentioning an FBI phone number. I know a lot of people just around us, right here, and watching on TV, wonder, much like any other disaster, do I know somebody, is my friend or neighbor in there, is that the best number to call, that FBI number, and what else would you advise people?
FITZGERALD: To be honest with you, David, I don't know more than that. They're trying to get that information together and identify folks. And that number that they gave out is the official number so -- nothing more than we would have so -- thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, the reporter earlier was referencing Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director, who was on the verge of tears when he described, saying, "It's a horrific crime scene, one of the worst I've ever seen."
It is hitting a lot of people hard. Even a statement coming from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum strongly condemning the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue there in Pittsburgh: "Sending its deepest sympathies to the victims and families of those who were callously murdered."
My panel is back with me now.
This is a very sizable investigation. On the heels of a week where there were other very sizable investigations involving the 13, you know, mail serial bombs. We heard from the FBI director yesterday, Wray, who said they're anticipating there could be more package bombs out there. So on heightened alert. And now you've got this hate crime. We heard from the public safety director who said this is now going to the FBI.
Paul, this will be a federal hate crime investigation. They do have a suspect, 46-year-old Robert Bowers. (CROSSTALK)
WHITFIELD: What's next here?
[13:44:57] CALLAN: What's next is the FBI will come in and they will take control of the crime scene and further investigation. The -- fortunately, the federal statutes are very, very strict and carry very, very heavy penalties. This is a death penalty case potentially. And the analogy to it, the case I think we could look at, is this case in Charleston involving the historic African-American church here.
WHITFIELD: In 2015.
CALLAN: Yes, that's right.
WHITFIELD: And nine African-American churchgoers killed.
CALLAN: They were killed. Dylann Roof was a white supremacist who was the murderer. He faced 33 counts under that federal indictment. He eventually was convicted on all counts. The feds have the resources. They know how to handle these cases. And cases that involve religious or racial discrimination are handled I think with special care. This investigation will be in good hands.
WHITFIELD: Another response coming in from the Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, responding by saying, this shooting incident at the Pittsburgh synagogue, quote, "We all feel the pain of the murder of eight Jews at a service. We will all stand together like a rock against hatred and against those who try to harm Jews all over the world." The ambassador adding, "I send condolences to the families of the murders and speedy recovery for the wounded. The entire Jewish people now stands alongside the Jewish community of Pittsburgh."
Josh, you know, while I mentioned this really has hit so many so hard. You've got these investigators who are the first responders. You hear the public safety director who really was choked up in the sight of and saying the scene is bad. You have investigators who are emotionally and professionally involved in the pipe bomb investigations. I mean, talk to me about how at large all these investigators are handling just the breadth and, you know, the heavyweight of these investigations, which all seem to have a commonalty, you know, of somehow hate inspired, whether it's politics, race or religion.
CAMPBELL: You're right. Law enforcement officers will try to put up a stoic front. They have to, as you mentioned, compartmentalize a lot of these things they see because they can't stop to get emotionally attached or respond emotionally. They have to keep investigating. You know, especially on a week like we just saw. It's not stopping. It's not ending. It's continuing. There's additional leads. Additional investigations. Additional incidents that happened. They just have to keep going, going, going. It's something that is of concern in the law enforcement community. After these types of incidents to actually be able to have the time to stop and process what you just saw as you continue on. But I have to tell you, these are the type of people that don't like to stop and think about themselves. I mean, their whole existence is to serve and help others. But that's the debate that goes on is, you know, these incidents happen. Obviously, we think about the public, and the officers think about the public, but we also can't stop thinking about those who, you know, get paid for a living to go into harm's way and then spend time away from their family and friends possibly deploying to crime scenes like this to go through and try to investigate.
WHITFIELD: Shimon, to be clear, there's a climate, it's in everybody's face right now, and it's one thing after another in a very big way. The president came out today after, you know, tweeting several times this morning, and then went on the tarmac at Andrews before boarding Air Force One, you know, he said this is worse than, you know, I initially thought, talking about the Pittsburgh synagogue. And also answering questions but then going to, you know, stiffening laws, entertaining the death penalty and even challenging whether the synagogue or others need to have more law enforcement presence. So you know, you have a confluence of emotion here from so many different emotions but the seriousness and coincidence, is it, you know, of just a multiple, multiple layering of acts of crime or attempted acts of crime.
PROKUPECZ: You know, if you talk to law enforcement officials, who are dealing with this, and looking at different intelligence that's coming in about people, feelings around the country, how people want to act on some of their feelings, I mean, they won't necessarily think that this isn't kind of somehow disconnected from what's going on in the world right now. Certainly in our country. You know, and really when you think about what the president said there, it's not -- it's irrelevant. It's completely irrelevant right now to what just happened there. Whether or not they should have had a security guard, an armed guard, it doesn't matter, because if someone comes in with a high-powered weapon, how are you going to stop them? How is one person --
WHITFIELD: It's the examination of intent, which I think a lot of people are looking for, you know, from the president or from leadership about, you know, how do you get to the intent, how do you remove the instinct or the intent to want to cause harm of this caliber?
[13:50:04] CALLAN: That's why we have these hate crime statutes. We have always had a hope in law enforcement, I think, that the punishment is so severe for these crimes that it would deter people from committing the crimes. But obviously, every single one of these cases that you look at, going back historically, they tend to involve hate-filled people who also suffer from mental illness.
WHITFIELD: Or it really doesn't matter about whether going to jail or losing their life, so then there still has to be some sort of approach to, you know, how do you tackle the thought, how do you tackle the motivation.
CALLAN: Well, I think --
WHITFIELD: Of wanting to do this?
CALLAN: I think it is dialing down the rhetoric, is very, very important. We're going through a stretch in American history now where the rhetoric, the political rhetoric on both sides is just overheated, and it really, with these characters out there, filled with hate, looking for a trigger, there's a lot of heated rhetoric that can cause people to act, and I think it is time for everybody on both sides of the political aisle to dial down and bring us back to a civilized discourse politically.
PROKUPECZ: This is kind of where people in community, some of the smaller community, larger communities, whatever, people in communities, if you see something, say something, if there's anything. This is sort of a way to deal with this and he prevent it perhaps and this is why law enforcement is only as good as what people tell them. And if people see something weird, or something is not making sense, or if they're seeing things even on Twitter and Facebook, someone needs to alert someone, because really, we keep hearing --
WHITFIELD: There might be a kernel of something.
PROKUPECZ: Right. And it is not making its way to law enforcement sometimes so, no matter how small it is, you may think it is nothing, but if it is something strange, that's where the see something, say something comes in.
CAMPBELL: I think you're right. If we treated political discourse the way we treat other types of law enforcement and fighting crime, then we may see better results. What I mean by that is, if you are an elected official, your words matter. And so law enforcement, if you think about terrorism, if you think about a bank robber, think about anything on the spectrum of law enforcement to investigate, they don't want to just go after political incidents that happen. They want to go after the underlying cause of the crime and bring that wave down. So in this instance, if it is the case of, you know, the United States discourse right now, is just so ratcheted up, we have to ask ourselves why. And then also ask ourselves the question, if we limited that, if we brought things down, would that help prevent this type of uneasiness, and you know, possibly these types of situations?
WHITFIELD: Art Roderick, how do you see this discourse, you know, playing into the investigative phase, whether it is after something like this has happened in Pittsburgh, or perhaps it is even in prevention?
RODERICK: Well, I think the discourse is, on one hand, you know, could inflame some of these issues, but I think it doesn't affect the actual investigation on the ground. Now, Josh is right, it could go to prevention, it could go to mitigation. But the discourse -- we've always had discourse in this country. Maybe it is very possibly at a heightened level at this point in time, but I don't think it is going to affect the actual -- it won't affect the actual investigation going on.
But one point I wanted to make, going back to your question to Josh about how this affects law enforcement officers, I have been involved in horrendous crime scenes, I've been involved in shootings, and each one of these federal law enforcement agencies and large police departments have what they call peer support units that actually are dispatched. They come out to talk to the officers that are involved in these incidences. I was a peer support member back in the mid '90s. And you immediately get dispatched to the scene and debrief the officers. Actually sit down and talk to them and tell them, psychologically and physically, what's going to be happening to them after one of these incidences. So these agencies do take care of their own and they do assist them through this peer support service that they provide.
WHITFIELD: And this just in, too. This tweet coming in from Ivanka Trump, daughter of the president, adviser to the president, who converted to Judaism -- her husband, Jared Kushner, is Jewish - saying this, "America is stronger than the acts of a depraved bigot and an anti-Semite. All good Americans stand with the Jewish people to oppose acts of terror and share the horror disgust and outrage over the massacre in Pittsburgh. We must unite against hatred and evil. God bless those affected."
We continue to watch the developments there. While it is no longer considered an actively shooter scene there in Pittsburgh, investigators still remain on the scene, looking for any kind of forensic evidence. They do have one in custody, 46-year-old Robert Bowers. He's at a hospital, being treated for injuries, at the same time, of course, being questioned.
[13:55:06] We will have much more on this horrific shooting, at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[13:59:40] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Frederica Whitfield, in New York.
We start with breaking news. A mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. We know that there are multiple deaths. At least six people have injuries. Four of those injured are police officers.
The suspect is in custody and actually at a hospital being treated for injuries, 46-year-old Robert Bowers.
The Pittsburgh safety director says, quote, "The scene is very bad inside."