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Latest on Mass Murder At A Synagogue In Pennsylvania. Aired 6- 7p ET
Aired October 27, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:16] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
We are following breaking news right now. A mass murder at a synagogue in Pennsylvania. Just a little while ago, the officials raised the death toll to 11 and they painted a clearer picture of the hate-filled van they believe went on a killing spree.
Here is what we know right now. It happened in Pittsburgh during morning services at the synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, a home to a very large number of the city's Jewish family.
Again, the latest word from Pittsburgh, 111 people are dead, all of them adults, six people injured. Two of them now in critical condition.
This man now in custody, Robert Bowers, 46 years old. Police officers have responded to the active shooter call saw him, shot at him, wounded him and then arrested him. The FBI is treating this horrible mass shooting as a hate crime, making it a federal investigation. That's because of what happened, the targeting of Jewish people and now the suspects own hateful anti-Semitic words posted online. We will have much more on that in a moment.
And this just come in to CNN, a statement from the anti-defamation league here in the United States.
Quote "this is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. We are actively engaged with law enforcement to support their investigation and call on authorities to investigate this as a hate crime. It is simply unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning and unthinkable to happen of America in this day and age."
That statement from Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL.
Let's go to Pittsburgh right now where we are hearing how police officers responded to this mass murder at this house of worship.
CNN Jean Casarez is on the scene for us.
Jean, it all started just before 10:00 a.m. this morning. JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We are really
learning more about the timeline now. I do want to tell you that one of the victims, a 70-year-old male who had multiple injuries to his torso is currently right now undergoing his second surgery of the day. He is in critical condition.
But CNN has confirmed that at 9:49 this morning, the suspect in all of this who was on social media a lot professing his hatred of those of the Jewish faith made his final post saying among other things, quote "I'm going in." And at that point at 9:54, five minutes later, the call was made from the synagogue saying there was an active shooter.
At 9:55, the officers were dispatched. And what we are learning, that a Pittsburgh police officer was the first person to go into that synagogue. And officers are saying that now it was after 11 people were killed, the suspect was conceivably trying to leave the synagogue, met head on with the officer. They exchanged gunfire. We are hearing that the suspect went back into the synagogue, conceivably to find cover himself and that is when another officer and two SWAT officers went in.
CNN has obtained dispatch audio of what went down at that time. Listen.
PATROL: Patrol at the front door. We got to evacuate some of these hostages.
DISPATCH: Received. Request for patrol at the front door evacuating hostages.
PATROL: We have a spent magazine. Looks like a high powered AK middle hallway off the 1-4 corner.
PATROL: I have a description.
DISPATCH: Go ahead, send it.
PATROL: Tall white male, short hair, light blue shirt, jeans. Again, that's tall white male, short hair, light blue shirt, jeans.
PATROL: I got one alive.
PATROL: We are evacuating one right now, still alive. We have at least four down in the atrium DOA at this time.
DISPATCH: Was there earlier intel that he may be in the basement?
PATROL: I had a report of at least one victim in the basement.
PATROL: I have an additional four victims, four victims in the back of the atrium of the front hall. Total eight down, one rescued at this time.
DISPATCH: What's your status in the basement? PATROL: We are probably at the bottom of the stairwell, cleared to
the left. Working room to the right, we have rifle cases in here with blood.
CASAREZ: In addition to law enforcement at the scene, three physicians, emergency room doctors went to that scene and started triaging the wounded there at the scene. We also do know that the FBI is the lead investigator in all of this. And the U.S. attorney for the western district of Pennsylvania is saying that criminal charges may be filed as soon as tonight. And the attorney general of this country, Sessions, is saying there may be the death penalty in this situation - Wolf.
[18:05:08] BLITZER: With a mass murder that took place at this synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Jean Casarez, I know you are working your sources. We are going to get back to you.
Not the people of this neighborhood in Pittsburgh, they are dealing with this sudden and deadly violence.
CNN's Jessica Dean also on the scene for us in Pittsburgh right now.
Jessica, the people who live there, they are about to show their unity, show their strength on this horrible day.
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. In the face of hate, they are all coming together with a big statement of love. You certainly get the sense from this community. We are here in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood at the Sixth Presbyterian Church. That they are all coming both, folks to grieve because they have lost members of their community. Not just lost them but in a hate-filled way and a very violent way. That they are coming out to grieve with one another. They are also coming out to show that love is greater than hate.
And to that end, it is at capacity here church. And right behind me, people are still filing in. There are no seats left in there and all outside as well. They are lining the streets in this downtown neighborhood. They all are hugging each other, talking to one another. They were singing Kumbaya inside.
People just want to be together. They just want to be together and show each other that they are here for one another. That they are going to show this expression of love. Of course, we have not got any details yet on the 11 people who died today. That is forthcoming. But you know that they were members of a community, of a family, with friends. People who loved them very much and who were grieving tonight. And for people here, even if they didn't know the victims, even if they didn't know anybody involved today, this is their community. And they want to make sure that everyone knows that they are supported, that they are loved. And as I said, that hate will be answered with love. So what we expect is that they will be here in the worship service.
It is all very fluid. This was kind of put together as the day evolved. They are going to be in this worship service for about the next half hour. And then we are told people will come outside, possibly for a candlelight vigil. We are going to see how things progress.
But again, Wolf, you certainly get the sense that community is very important tonight and that love is at top of mind.
BLITZER: That's a wonderful community there in squirrel hill in that neighborhood in Squirrel Hill in that neighborhood in Pittsburgh. A very, very loving community as well.
We are going to get back to you. Jessica, thank you very much.
As we mentioned, the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, is expressing its sadness in the wake of today's tragedy in Pittsburgh. You heard part of the statement released by the ADL just a few moments ago. I want to read it in its entirety right now. This is the CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL. And he says this.
Quote "our hearts break for the families of those killed and injured at the Tree of Life Synagogue and for the entire Jewish community of Pittsburgh. This is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States. We are actively engaged in law enforcement to support their investigation and call on authorities to investigate this as a hate-crime and simply unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age.
Unfortunately, this violent attack, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the United States occurs at a time when the ADL has reported historic increase in both anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Semitic online harassment. And as we mourn those lost and search for answers, ADL will remain steadfast in the fight for anti-Semitism whenever it may occur."
Once again, that statement from Jonathan Greenblatt.
Joining us right now, Rabbi Steven Wernick who knows the current rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. He is joining us right now.
Rabbi Wernick, our hearts go out to the families of those. Our deepest, deepest condolences. First of all, tell us about the community there in Squirrel Hill and tell us about the rabbi, someone you know.
RABBI STEVEN WERNICK, LEADER OF THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT IN THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Wolf. The community in Squirrel Hill someone is one of the historic Jewish communities in the city of Pittsburgh. It's really a dense community filled with Jews of multi- denominations and approaches to Jewish life. Rabbi Jeff Myers is a rabbi and (INAUDIBLE) head spiritual leader of
Tree of Life congregation. He is somebody I have known for several years, going back to his previous pulpit which was in New Jersey. He is, as we say, a real wonderful person. He was in (INAUDIBLE) that time although he was not conducting services. And our hearts go out to him and to his entire community and the entire movement stands with tree of life at this time.
[18:10:02] BLITZER: And I know because I'm hearing from synagogues, Jewish community centers all over the country right now, rabbi, that they, as a result of this mass murder in Pittsburgh this morning, they are increasing their own security out of an abundance of caution which I assume you think is a prudent idea.
WERNICK: Well, we have been working with the secure communities network which is sponsored by the Jewish federations of North America for several years in terms of advising synagogues on security measures and ways in which they can increase the security of their communities. And we are hearing actually from synagogues all over the world, not only their condolences but their expressions of solidarity. And everybody is, of course, also looking inward and double checking their own security procedures at this time as well.
BLITZER: Has there been from your perspective an increase in anti- Semitism in the United States?
WERNICK: Well, as you quoted earlier, the Anti-Defamation League is the world's leading expert in terms of moderating anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world. They are reporting in the year 2017 an increase of 57 percent. And we are certainly seeing that within numerous incidents of our congregations and other community, Jewish community institutions throughout the United States.
BLITZER: So why do you think there has been an increase in hate against Jews?
WERNICK: It's not just, I think, hate against Jews. I think, unfortunately, we are living at a time of significant change within our society and our public discourse has allowed what has previously been marginalized behavior to be less marginalized. And so, people who perhaps are predisposed to elements of hate within their hearts are perhaps feeling a little bit more emboldened to act on it in all sorts of ways.
BLITZER: Rabbi Wernick, I want you to stand by. Rabbi Chuck Diamond is joining us right now. He is a former rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. He is joining us on the phone right now.
I take it, rabbi Diamond, you are in Pittsburgh right now, is that right?
RABBI CHUCK DIAMOND, FORMER TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE RABBI (on the phone): I'm in Pittsburgh right now. In fact, there as a vigil happening, you know, at the local street corner where there's hundreds of people here, but yes.
BLITZER: Have you been in touch with any of those who were there, who were praying this morning at the Sabbath morning service?
DIAMOND: Yes. I have spoken to few people who were actually there. And unfortunately, I have heard about a few people who were killed. These were my congregants. I was a rabbi there about a-year-and-a- half ago. Very close. And I knew this time of day, 9:45, when services get started, you know, it's really just, luckily, it's just a small group. But I knew exactly who was there. And unfortunately, I know some of the 11 who were killed.
BLITZER: Yes. Our hearts go out to their families. Right now, I can only imagine this killer comes in there with an assault rifle, three pistols, shooting men and women are praying. They are at least the men, maybe some of the women are wearing prayer shawls. And all of the sudden, this guy starts shooting. What else did the con grow congregants tell you?
DIAMOND: Right. Well, basically, that, you know, the Synagogue on Sabbath morning, on Saturday morning, has an open door. During the week, it's locked. But on the Sabbath, people could come in. There's three congregations which share the space all in places that are nearby each other. And from what I heard, the shooter must have come in and went down stairs to the one congregation there. I believe four people killed from there and then he probably went upstairs. And I heard about a few people being killed in the chapel with another congregation there. And a few people who were there studying as the third congregation, ran down to see what was going on. And I know one was in surgery today and the other that we haven't heard from.
BLITZER: And there have been these reports, I don't know if you know, if they are true, that there was a baby naming about to take place during the service today?
DIAMOND: Yes, I don't know for sure. I have to tell you, I have heard that, but probably the same as you. So I don't - I can't say for sure that that was happening. I know that at that time, there aren't a lot of people who are Synagogue luckily Jews, as rabbi Wernick who can probably attest to, Jews tend to come to services late. And that was, I guess, a blessing in disguise for many people today.
BLITZER: I know that during the high holidays, (INAUDIBLE), there's heightened security at synagogues all over the United States. But during a regular Saturday morning, Sabbath service, I take it, you don't have much security there.
DIAMOND: Not much security. On the holidays, there's a police presence up front and police cars parked around the buildings. And so there's heavier presence. No a normal Shabbat and Sabbath, it - very quiet. And no, there is no security. Although, I have to say, if there probably was security person, there is probably be one more casualty.
[18:15:16] BLITZER: Rabbi Diamond and Rabbi Wernick, we have got to take a quick break. But is there, first of all, rabbi Diamond, anything you want to say right now? Is there any prayer that should be uttered? DIAMOND: Well, I have to say, you know, with all these shootings
around, Wolf, you know, and everybody offers their prayers and comfort, and that's important and that is helpful. I have heard from many people from around the world checking to see if I was OK.
But I think, how many times as a rabbi can you throw up your hands and say, what are we going to do? And I think it's time for action. It's way past time for action. And I hope our politicians get off their rear ends and do something about the gun crisis. And there's a lot of different issues involved here.
The first thing that we need to do is on the personal level, on the local level, the comfort. The people who have lost somebody, the people who were there and to come together as a community.
Pittsburgh is a wonderful town and the Jewish community is wonderful and we get along with each other, so I believe we are all here for support.
BLITZER: I totally understand what you're saying. Rabbi, any final thought?
WERNICK: I agree with Rabbi Diamond. Judaism, has always considered itself more of an activist religion. The purpose of prayer is really about self-reflection and measuring ourselves against the values that we hold dear.
Many of those values have to do just, for example, a couple of weeks ago in the weekly Torah reading and the bible reading, after the first murder, Cain murdering Abel, God wants to know where Abel is and Cain asked, am I my brother's keeper? And the answer our tradition gives is yes, I am my brother's keeper. I do have a responsibility to build a society that's based on justice, equality, love and I have a responsibility to make sure that my brothers and sisters, that all people in the society are safe. And I think that prayer only goes so far. At the end of the day, God also wants us to act.
BLITZER: Rabbi Wernick, Rabbi Diamond, to both of you, thank you so much. And our deepest, deepest condolences to the families of those killed.
We will take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage right after this.
[18:21:26] BLITZER: Eleven people are dead. Six more wounded including two right now in critical condition after a mass murder at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. This hour, we are learning very disturbing new details about the alleged gunman.
His name is Robert Bowers. He is 46 years old. He holds absolutely disgusting abhorrent views. It is clear, based on his online life that he is an anti-Semite. He frequently targeted Jews on social media, blaming Jews for helping quote "invaders in migrant caravans heading towards the United States." He also said he didn't support the President because President Trump, he said, was surrounded by too many Jews.
Perhaps most chilling, just six minutes before the shooting, Bowers posted vitriol towards Jews and said, and I'm quoting him now, "I'm going in."
During the shooting, dispatch audio reveals he also said, once again, I'm quoting, "all these Jews need to die."
Bowers also posted photos of his gun collection online as well as firearm targets. Police say that he carried out this heinous crime today on with an assault rifle and three handguns.
Here is the moment Bowers surrendered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Advised suspect (INAUDIBLE) three yards. SWAT talked to him and tell him to continue to crawl at this time. Shadow one, suspect talking about all these Jews need to die. We are still communicating with him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be advised. Red shirt this time. We don't know if he changed clothes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The suspect keeps talking about killing Jews. Doesn't want any of them to live.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, right. I relayed that on the other side. Copy that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin, our law enforcement analyst retired FBI supervisory agent, James Gagliano and former system director of the U.S. marshal's office Art Roderick.
Art, we are learning more about the suspect. But you have an interesting theory, that is only a theory that you want to share with our viewers, about the timing of this assault on this synagogue this morning.
ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. And when we look at this active shooter here, he has made some very powerful anti- Semitic rants on his, you know, his electronic feeds, social media. And if we think back just yesterday or couple of days ago, we had the male bomber come out and make white supremacy remarks very similar. And of course, white supremacy or anti-Sematic, you know, anti-race, anti-immigrant and we are hearing the same thing from both individuals.
So I am just wondering if the trigger for this active shooter was what the mail bomber had done because it's following on the heels of the arrests that just occurred yesterday. So was -- did this put this individual over the edge?
BLITZER: It's an interesting theory.
James, what do you think about that theory?
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know, I think it's a good one. And Wolf, we have got to understand, there's 330 million people in this country. And I think a lot of times for law enforcement, we look back at things now with 20/20 hindsight and we go, what did we miss?
Unfortunately, we live in a country with civil liberties. There are privacy protections and things like that. And where along that line for the first amendment protections, do we want to say, well, this was too much heated rhetoric. And hyperbole, we are going to charge you with a crime.
Look. You read the hateful things this person apparently put on that alt right side and you think to yourself, how could we miss anything? But a lot of times, it's a trigger that sets these folks off. This is obviously an emotionally disturbed person. Obviously, someone with evil intent and hateful ideology that they were professing. But sometimes, they go about their life normally and they only share these things with a few certain people and that makes it damn difficult for law enforcement to get out in front of these things, unfortunately.
[18:25:16] BLITZER: Yes. And there is always an enormous fear of these hate crimes being the result of copy cats as well.
Michael, let's talk about the legal process right now. He is going to be charged with hate crimes. The FBI is now the lead agency. The U.S. attorney, the western district of Pennsylvania will be in charge. Walk us through what happens.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, so he was arrested. He was asked questions under this limited opportunity to ask him questions without Miranda warnings and him asserting his right which was a public safety exemption. Are there any other weapons? Are there any other shooters? Are there any other things that we need to know to secure that?
Once he asserts his Fifth Amendment rights, questioning stops, he will be presented in a courtroom. He will be charged, in this case, probably with 18 U.S. code 247 and 18 U.S. code 249. These are the hate crime statutes. It has been in existence since 1996 and 2009, respectively. He will have a lawyer. He will get to defend himself. He will get to put on a defense of, I didn't do it. Insane. You didn't prove the elements of your statute. It will go to either guilty plea to avoid a death penalty if that's what they charge him with or jury trial and he will suffer.
BLITZER: He will be charge of mass murder, too. Murdering another individuals. And we hope that numbers doesn't go up. Although, two of those injured are in critical condition right now.
ZELDIN: He will be charged with shooting police officers which is a separate crime. And then the decision that judgment could be made, was this a domestic terrorism act versus a hate crime? There is a very thin line between those two. Prosecutors will decide that. I suspect they stay on the hate crime side of it. It's a little bit easier to prove. But all of those things will be taking place within the U.S. attorney's office and in main justice that this will be coordinated, I think, by Jeff Sessions.
BLITZER: Does it make sense right now for synagogues, Jewish community centers and perhaps other houses of worship, churches to go on a higher state of alert out of fear that there could be copy cats, crazy nuts out there who might want to do something?
RODERICK: Absolutely. And that's what is occurring right now. Actually, I saw a report that NYPD has sent extra officers out to houses of worship to make sure that there's some security there.
And unfortunately, Wolf, this has been going on for years. I remember back when I was with the martial service ten years ago. We had a whole spat of these church burnings, violence at churches. And we did security surveys. And I know homeland security is doing the same thing now having spent time with them and they are out serving, doing security surveys at places of worship to determine. Are cameras needed here? Do you need physical security?
So it's unfortunately, this is not new. We know we have been down this path many times before. Just recently, the church shooting in Charleston. So unfortunately, it's rearing its ugly head again.
ZELDIN: And to the exact then, we went through that at our synagogue. Now, there's only one port of entry on any day. All the other doors, you could exit through, of course, in the fire. But you can only enter through one. And there's always security there, whether it's holidays or just Shabbat because that's the decision that they made based on something like this.
BLITZER: These are just disturbing developments that are unfolding here in the United States.
We are going to have a lot more. I want all of you guys to stand by. We will take a quick break. We will be right back.
[18:33:03] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look for some of the leaders in Pittsburgh.
BLITZER: Looking at some live pictures coming in from Pittsburgh. A vigil I underway right now. Community members, they have gotten together, not too far from the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh where 11 people were murdered today, six injured, four of them police officers. Two of those injured, not police officers, two of those injured are in critical condition right now. We are watching all of this unfold.
President Trump says he plans to visit Pittsburgh in the wake of today's mass shooting that left these 11 people dead at the Tree of Life Synagogue. The suspect opening fire while spewing anti-Semitic vitriol. Police taking him into custody. He was shot multiple times. He is now in a Pittsburgh hospital.
President Trump condemning the attacks, but moving forward with his rally in Murphysboro, Illinois, tonight. The President was asked earlier about whether or not he would be open to changing gun laws in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, do you think you need to revisit gun laws?
TRUMP: Well, again, this has little to do with it. If you take a look, if they had protection inside, the results would have been far better. This is a dispute that will always exist, I suspect, but if they had some kind of a protection inside the temple, maybe it could have been a very much different situation. They didn't. And he was able to do things that unfortunately, he shouldn't have been able to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now our senior political commentator, the host of "THE AXE FILES," David Axelrod.
First of all, David, walk us through what has been going through your mind all day as you heard about this mass murder, the ADL says, we believe this is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.
[18:35:13] DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, let me say, my heart goes out to the families of those who have been lost and injured, to the police officers and their families. It's a horrible story.
And Wolf, you know, and I know we share some history but my family came here to escape religious persecution, to be safe from this very thing. And that's - and you expect that in America. And the notion that you can't go and worship on a Saturday morning without fear of someone invading the synagogue with assault weapons and killing people is a horrendous, horrendous thought. So it's a really sad day, not just for me but for our country. And I hope it's an occasion.
We will have this debate again. We have been having this debate over guns. We probably will have another chapter of it after this event. But I also hope we have some discussion, some reflection about the course, the discordant nature of our public dialogue now because, you know, I have no doubt the President, you know, didn't want to encourage, approve anything like this.
But it is true that, you know, if you create a stage of siege, there are people who are imbalanced in our society. You can see them on the fringers of our social media like the man, like that guy who sent all of those bombs out, to all those public officials who are activated by that kind of rhetoric.
And we really need to take a step back. The most important thing isn't for the President to visit Pittsburgh, it's to sit back and think about the rhetoric that he is using and everyone in public life needs to do the same thing.
But you know, we heard that this man held Jews responsible for this invasion of refugees from Latin America that he had been ranting about this on his posts. Well, we know what we have heard in our politics in the last few weeks. And we hear it at the President's rallies all the time about treating this rag tag band of refugees a thousand miles away as an invading army. And if you speak in that siege language, you are going to activate paranoid madmen like the guy, Bowers, who ran into the synagogue today with the intent to kill.
So this should be a pause for reflection, not for obligatory statements of sadness, and the gun debate is clearly important, but there's something bigger going on that we have seen play out in the last week that deserves our attention.
BLITZER: You know, and only five minutes before he went into that synagogue and began killing these people, he posted on his social media this about Hias, which is the Jewish refugee organization, he wrote, Hias likes to bring in the invaders that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I'm going in.
So chilling. Only five minutes before he went into that synagogue and a lot of us are familiar with the highest, this refugee, Jewish refugee organization that's done amazing work over the years of helping Jewish refugees settle here in the United States. It's an awful, awful situation.
A final thought before I let you go, David.
AXELROD: Well, again, you know, that idea didn't come, I mean, it bounces around the internet on these right-wing, alt-right sites but it also has been reinforced by people in positions of responsibility. And they need to think about this.
And let me just add another thing, Wolf, just as we close. It also requires that when this ugliness is expressed in public, as we saw in Charlottesville, that every public official from the President on down lapse arms and denounces it and says there's no place for it, lest you give encouragement to people who think that it's somehow legitimate to act on these impulses and that, you know, these dark, dark prejudices and biases and crazy delusional notions are going to be accepted in the broader society.
So, again, this should be, we should give pause here to honor these people by reflecting on where we are as a country.
[18:40:16] BLITZER: Let's not forget, this must hit home for the President of the United States as daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism. Husband, Jared Kushner, is Jewish, the President's grandchildren are Jewish. So this must be something that hits him personally. I simply assume that.
All right. David Axelrod, thank you very, very much. AXELROD: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Once again, a very quick break. We will be right back.
[18:45:07] BLITZER: Today's mass murder inside of Pittsburgh synagogue leaving 11 people dead, six others injured. Four of those six are police officers, two of those injured, not police officers, in critical condition right now.
The suspected shooter walking in, opening fire during Shabbat or Sabbath services at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
I want to bring in 226-year-old Zachary Weiss. His father, Steven Weiss, was inside the synagogue, praying when the gunman opened fire. Zachary was at home with his mother and brother.
And Zachary, thank you so much for joining us. First of all, how is your father? How is your family holding up right now?
ZACHARY WEISS, SON OF EYEWITNESS (on the phone): Well, good evening, Wolf. And un-fortune to talk given this circumstance but I appreciate the platform. My parents there are about as well as they can be right now. Unfortunately, what happened, there's no stopping that. My dad was indeed in the synagogue at the time that the active shooter entered the synagogue and he, thank goodness, was able to escape. He followed a security measure entitled alas in which a lot of administrators and people around the synagogue were being taught and took it in, so it was a testament the active shooter training absolutely worked. And he was able to safely evacuate. And my mom was able to meet him down there a few minutes after he evacuated. And they were at home together, obviously, a little bit shaken up given the news and the tragedy that happened. And I'm sure the news that will follow within the coming days and hopefully not weeks, but possibly weeks.
And we are handling as well as we can right now. Wolf, that's about all as we can do.
BLITZER: Was your dad praying? Where was he sitting inside the synagogue? And did he actually see the gunman?
WEISS: So what ended up happening was the rabbi was a little under the weather. And while he was at the synagogue to (INAUDIBLE), my dad at the 11th hour was called to assist him and my dad has been a member of Tree of Life for I think nine years now. And he has done a variety of different roles and selflessly allowed himself to embrace the congregation. And this was a simple yes for him.
And as the matter of fact, the family was supposed to be out on vacation this weekend. But due to an illness, they had to postpone that vacation, so that was not supposed to be at the synagogue in any fashion this morning and he was assisting the rabbi and they were praying. And I believe what he explained to me that they were doing like (INAUDIBLE) at that time when there was a loud noise that was heard. There are a couple of congregants who investigated that noise. It could been a falling congregant. It could have been large piece of furniture that fallen. But when there was a couple more loud noises that then followed, it was unmistakable treated an active shooter situation.
And the interesting thing about this synagogue in itself is there's actually three separate synagogues that use the facility, Tree of Life and two others. And one of the synagogues, there actually was a brisk (ph) that was being undertaken in the basement. So once the rabbi at Tree of Life was able to try to get his congregants to hide in a safe fashion, my father was able to escape and go down to the entry where it was to make sure that they were trying and they were not shaken up and they were aware of what was going on. And when he saw that, he guesstimated that he was about five feet away from moving casings which he did not get a clear image of the shooter but he was within clear proximity before he was able to go up there and evacuate.
BLITZER: And just to repeat, your dad is OK?
WEISS: My dad is 100 percent physically fine. Mentally is another question, but as well as our family and to all of congregation is handling it as best as we possibly can.
BLITZER: Zachary, please pass along our love to your family, to everyone there in Pittsburgh. What an awful, awful situation. Once again, our deepest, deepest condolences to the families.
We will take another quick break. We will be right back.
[18:53:31] BLITZER: We are back with the breaking news coverage. Eleven people now dead after a mass shooting inside of Pittsburgh synagogue. The alleged gunman Robert Bowers yelling anti-Semitic statements during his rampage.
Just before the attack, Bowers posted "I'm going in" note on social media. The Tree of Life Synagogue is located in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, considered the hub of the city's Pittsburgh Jewish community.
Joining us now, Meryl Ainsman, board chair of the Jewish federation of greater Pittsburgh.
And Meryl, thanks for joining us. Our hearts go out to your community, to everybody in Pittsburgh right now. How devastating will this be for your city's tight knit Jewish community?
MERYL AINSMAN, BOARD CHAIR OF THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF GREATER PITTSBURGH (on the phone): Thank you, Wolf. It's quite devastating, to be honest with you. We are a very tight knit community. That's the synagogue where I was raised, where I was married, where my daughter was married. Everybody in this Squirrel Hill Jewish community, everybody in the Pittsburgh Jewish community, we know each other. It's not even two degrees of separation. So this is something that will take a long time to get over. But honestly, one of the best parts about this community is that we
all work together. We have all been huddled together this afternoon from all of our different agencies and working together to get through this and I know that we will.
BLITZER: As you know, this suspected shooter, he expressed very vicious hatred of Jews. We hope those anti-Semitic views are uncommon in your beautiful city of Pittsburgh. But have you encountered words like that? You are the board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
AINSMAN: No, never. And I hope to never hear them again.
[18:55:02] BLITZER: Are you reaching out to the families of those who were killed and injured?
AINSMAN: Yes, we are all actually together in one of our Jewish institutions. Most of the day in the afternoon, we have all been there together. Not just people from the federation but people from the Jewish community center, Jewish family and community services and other agencies were all there, hopefully, supporting each other.
BLITZER: I assume you are tightening security at various other synagogues, Jewish community centers, Jewish schools, places like that.
AINSMAN: Yes, we are working with the FBI to make sure that happens. We also have a community security director who is working very closely with the FBI. Actually has been, all the time, worked closely with the FBI to try and send off anything like this from ever happening.
BLITZER: So what do you think is need most right now to start this healing process in Pittsburgh?
AINSMAN: Well, tomorrow night, we have a community vigil for not just the Jewish community but for the entire community. I think we just need to be together. We need to be together. We need to support each other. We are getting a tremendous amount of support from outside the city, outside the state, even outside the country. All of our phones are just ringing off the hook from all over the world. And it's really wonderful to see how everyone standing by us.
But this is something we're just going to take time. We just have to get through this and heal. And I know that we will be able to do it working together.
BLITZER: Meryl, did you know any of the 11 who were killed?
AINSMAN: Well, to be honest, Wolf, they are not releasing the names yet so I would rather not comment.
BLITZER: So you have not been informed who was murdered?
AINSMAN: They are not releasing the names yet.
BLITZER: But they will be, unfortunately, soon. And as you know, in the Jewish tradition, is that burials are supposed to take place relatively quickly. So I assume this mourning process is only just starting in Pittsburgh. And our hearts go out to everyone in that community.
AINSMAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: In your community.
AINSMAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Any final thought before I let you go?
AINSMAN: Just say prayers for us. We will get through this and that's all. Thank you very much, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Meryl Ainsman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Thank you very much.
We will take another break. We will be right back.
[18:59:37] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We are following breaking news this hour.
Eleven people dead, six others wounded when a gunman opened fire on worshippers at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. The FBI agent in-charge are calling it the most horrific crime scene he had ever seen. The gunman identified by police as 46-year-old Robert Bowers. Police say he was not known to law enforcement before today's shooting. He was arrested, alive but wounded and shot multiple times by officers who took him down.