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Rabbi Describes Terror of Gunman's Rampage; Shooting Suspect Set for 1st Court Appearance Soon; Remembering the Victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting; Suspicious Package Address to CNN Intercepted at Atlanta Post Office; Jewish Group to Trump: You're Not Welcome in Pittsburgh Until You Disavow White Nationalism. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired October 29, 2018 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:10] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Kate Bolduan.

This morning, we're learning new details about the chilling moments when a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue. That new account coming from a rabbi who had just begun services at the Tree of Life Synagogue.


JEFFREY MYERS, RABBI, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: Three people from one of the synagogues in our building ran down the stairs. As they ran down the stairs, I could see them from the rear of my sanctuary, another round of what I now knew was gunfire came out. I can't tell you how I knew it was gunfire because I have never heard gunfire before. But just something told me that this was some sort of semiautomatic weapon. At that time, I instructed my congregates to drop to the floor, do not utter a sound and do not move. Our pews are thick old oak and I thought perhaps there's some protection there. The people that were in the front of my sanctuary, I quickly tried to usher them up to the front, out some doors in the front, towards exits or towards a closet, some place they could hide, some place safe. I turned back to see if I could help the remaining eight people in the back of my congregation. At that time, I could hear the gunfire getting louder. It was no longer safe for me to be there and I had to leave them. One of the eight was shot. And she's survived her wounds. The other seven of my congregates were gunned down in my sanctuary. There was nothing I could do.


HILL: A short time from now, the first court appearance for the man who is accused of killing 11 people. Robert Bowers will hear the formal reading of the 29 charges against him. He could face the death penalty for the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

CNN's Jean Casarez is outside the courthouse.

Jean, what more do we know about the suspect this morning?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have just confirmed that he has been released from Allegheny General Hospital. His last status was he was in fair condition, shot multiple times himself. So that paves the way for this 1:30 appearance in court. We are right outside the federal courthouse. And remember, charges were filed Saturday night. I mean, hours after the massacre happened, federal charges, being prosecuted as a hate crime. The charges that were filed had to be expressly consented to by the attorney general of the United States or his designee in writing. That obviously happened very quickly.

What also has to happen quickly is an initial court proceeding because there are constitutional issues at stake. This defendant must be apprised of the charges, acknowledge that he understands the charges, told that he will be represented by an attorney. If he cannot afford one, one will be appointed. We fully expect an attorney will be by his side.

But what makes this death penalty eligible is the charge in relation to the 11 victims who died in this. It is the intentional obstruction by force of the exercise and enjoyment of religious beliefs causing and resulting in death. That is what allows this to be death penalty. Now, normally, it doesn't happen for a long time that something is filed, notice of intent to seek the death penalty. That usually happens much farther along down the line. But everyone is wondering in light of the circumstances if there could be a consent by the attorney general for that, this to be prosecuted as death penalty and this be announced in the hearing today. At this point, we have no idea -- Erica?

HILL: All right, Jean, we will get any updates from you to come. Jean, thank you.

This morning, we're also learning more about the 11 lives taken in Saturday's killing spree. The victims ranging in age from 54 years old to 97.

CNN's Jessica Dean is outside the synagogue.

Jessica, what more can you tell us this morning about these 11 lives?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, good morning to you, Erica. We're learning much more about the 11 people who lost their lives on Saturday. You can see behind me there's a memorial set up with each of their names there. They have all been represented.

We want to give you kind of a snap shot of some of these. Again, this in no way does justice to a full life, but it at least honors who these people were.

Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66 years old. He was a primary care physician here in the Squirrel Hill area, which means that he saw a lot of kids, a lot of families throughout the years. He was practically like a family member to a lot of people. He was also known for his bowtie that he would wear and his infectious laughter, bringing joy to the people that he knew. Also, 71-year-old Daniel Stein. We're told he was at temple every

Saturday. He was retired. Known for his dry sense of humor. His son posted on social media over the weekend saying his dad was a simple man who didn't require much.

[11:05:00] And the oldest victim here, 97-year-old Rose Mallinger. She was a former school secretary. A lot of people remembered her from growing up or maybe their kids going to school there. We're told she also was a regular attendee of services. She was described as spry, vibrant, and the matriarch of her family. And you can imagine, at 97 years old, a lot of family members mourning her today along with her friends.

And then a pair of brothers, Cecil and David Rosenthal. They were ages 59 and 54. And from what we have been told by so many people, they were inseparable. They were always with each other. They were known kind of as unofficial ambassadors here at Tree of Life. People remember them being there at the front greeting people as they came in to the synagogue for services. A Pittsburgh nonprofit that supports people with disabilities says that they were well respected members of their community and also called them extraordinary.

And, Erica, just to give you a sense of how tied into the community all of these 11 were, I was talking with a woman earlier. She knew the brothers. And there's a bus stop right over to my left side here. She said she saw them at the bus stop regularly, they would wave, say hello. This is just a gut punch to so many in this community. There was also a married couple, the Simons, who were married here at Tree of Life in 1956. So many ties. All of these 11 doing their own thing throughout their lives to give back to their communities in love -- Erica?

HILL: Jessica Dean, with more on the victims for us. Jessica, thank you.

Also joining us is Jeffrey Solomon. His family has belonged to the Tree of Life Synagogue for more than 50 years and he's also related by marriage to two of the victims, brothers, Cecil and David Rosenthal. And he joins us now

Jeffrey, we appreciate you coming in today.


HILL: As we were --

SOLOMON: Wish it were under other circumstances.

HILL: I wish it were, too, as you know.

As we were listening to Jessica's report and she was going through and telling us about each of these 11 people, I saw you reacting to each of them, but specifically to David and Cecil Rosenthal. We have heard so much about how these two men were such a light, no matter where they were. Tell us more about them. SOLOMON: Well, I mean, if you grew up in Pittsburgh and in Squirrel

Hill in particular, you knew David and Cecil. They were inseparable. They were everywhere. If they weren't at shul, where they were at every Saturday morning, they were at the Pittsburgh JCC. Very active members in the community. For those of us who grew up in Pittsburgh, they were just a part of the community. Today, we talk about inclusion and programs to help educate people about people with special needs. In our community, Cecil and David were just part of the community and doing their thing. They were different, and we all knew that, but everyone treated them with a kind of respect you would for any member of the community. And they were filled with light. I have told people over the past few days, there wasn't a bad bone between the two of them. You know, when I would go to Tree of Life, where I had -- was really raised, for all intents and purposes, I would pick up conversations with Cecil that I might not have been having for years. And it was right back there, always a big hug. Or he would hand me a prayer book and tell me what page to go to. Just these were special people to all of us. And I have had a lot of friends of mine from all over the world reach out to me. And they all say the same thing, whether they knew Cecil and David well or not, they were a deep part of our community and everyone is grieving their loss as well as the loss of the others. It's really heart-wrenching.

HILL: You were there yesterday to be with this community, which obviously made you so much of who you are today, right? This is where you grew up. This is what you knew the world was. What was it like for you to be there yesterday and why was it so important for you to be there?

SOLOMAN: Well, in the midst of this tragedy, the community was coming together. And I would say, you know, it's hard to say this, but you see the best of humanity in moments like this. The Pittsburgh community is a very special tight-knit community. Those of us who know longer live there, those of us who live in the Pittsburgh diaspora feel a deep sense of ties to the community. A lot of us still have family there. It doesn't matter what your race is or your religion or your color is or how you orient yourself, this is a community that comes together a lot around celebrations and sports teams, and so when something happens like this in our community, we rally around each other. And being there and watching the entirety of the Pittsburgh community rally around Squirrel Hill, the neighborhood I grew up in, around Tree of Life and the other congregations where I attended, it gives you hope. It gives you a sense of faith in humanity that even in the face of this senseless tragedy, that the world is actually a great place, and there are lots of people who care and want to make the world a better place. And so I feel it was wonderful to be a part of that, even though we're grieving.

[11:10:10] HILL: The community that you describe, that you grew up in, in many ways sounds idyllic. It's what a lot of people in this country would like for their families today. Given that, given how open and accepting and welcoming this community is that you describe, to see this happen there, to see this expression of hate in a place that is supposed to be the ultimate place where all are welcome, how did you reconcile those things? SOLOMON: I'm still working through that. I'll say Squirrel Hill, in

particular, which is where I grew up and where my family grew up and all my relatives live, is just an amazingly inclusive community. I didn't really think about that growing up. And it sounds idyllic, but it's got challenged like the rest of the communities do. We're always trying to work on problems. Even today as someone who lives in New York, we're still deeply involved in the social services in the Pittsburgh community, particularly for me and my family through the Pittsburgh Jewish community center. There are challenges. But we're working on it. And so when you grow up in Squirrel Hill, you grow up in an environment where you have generations of people who have lived there. I'm a third generation of Squirrel Hillers. But you also have new immigrants and you have an influx of people who are coming -- who are choosing to live in Squirrel Hill because of its inclusiveness. And no one judges in that regard. We have our differences, but you see churches next to synagogues and people reaching out and doing good deeds, and you walk down the street and people say, how are you doing? I mean --


HILL: They make eye contact.

SOLOMON: They make eye contact. I want to be clear, there are neighborhoods and communities all over this country and all over the world that are like that. Growing up here, I didn't think it was anything special.

Here's what I would say to everybody who is watching. You know, when you grow up in a place like Squirrel Hill, you learn how to be good. And then you go off into the world, and sometimes you return home or you go off into the world and do good for others because it's what you have seen and witnessed and the way people treated you. This is Squirrel Hill at its finest. This is Pittsburgh at its finest.

And while, you know, the world will always remember these tragic events, I would encourage everyone to know that this community is a wonderful community that has done so much more good. When you see something like this happen, I want to be clear, it's hard not to take it personal because this was deliberate. You know, this is an individual who clearly knows what Squirrel Hill and the Pittsburgh Jewish community stand for. It's representative of our community, our city at large. And when you choose to do something here, you're making a very bold statement about attacking good. And so what I have encouraged people to do, many people ask, what can we do to help. My advice is, in order to honor the lives of our friends and family members and in order to honor our community, go out and do something good today. In Judaism, we talk about repairing the world. You know, Tree of Life is where I learned that for the first time. The Pittsburgh Jewish community center is where I practiced that. I'm encouraging people to just do something positive and connect yourself to the lives that were lost and the people who didn't ask to be martyrs but today are. If you do that, you're essentially winning and making the world a better place.

HILL: Isn't that the better message? Jeffrey, thank you for coming in.

One other note. I notice in nearly every single description of each one of these 11 people, the word "kind" is used.


HILL: So clearly, that's the message here.

Appreciate it. Thank you.

SOLOMON: Thank you.

HILL: And our condolences on your losses.

Coming up, new this morning, another suspicious package addressed to CNN. This time, sent to CNN headquarters in Atlanta. It was intercepted before it reached the building. We have those details for you ahead.


[11:18:24] HILL: Authorities are investigating another suspicious package addressed to CNN. This time, addressed to our Atlanta headquarters. It was intercepted by reaching the building. Police received a call a short time ago.

And this happened on the same day that the alleged serial bomber, Cesar Sayoc, is due in court to face charges on mailing 14 pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and critics of President Trump.

CNN's Evan Perez joins us now with the latest on the package which was found today.

Do we know if this package at this point bears any resemblance, any similarities to the ones which were discovered last week?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: We do, Erica. At this point, we're told that this package appears similar. It's got the similar appearance with the similar style of addressing. And this one was addressed to CNN at the CNN center in Atlanta, the headquarters for this network. And the FBI bomb squad is now in possession of this package, where they're going to begin to do their work, to examine whether or not it bears all of the hallmarks, whether it's connected to the packages intercepted last week. If it is confirmed to be related, then this would be the 15th such package that has been intercepted.

We knew, even as the suspect last week, Friday, was being arrested, we heard from authorities that there was concern that there might be additional packages that were still en route, that were still in the mail system. So this may be one of those. At this point, the package was intercepted at a postal facility in Atlanta, not at CNN center. Jeff Zucker, the president of the network, has told employees today that all mail headed to CNN center and other buildings is being screened off site so this never posed any danger to employees there. But obviously, there's still possible danger to people who might be handling it, people at the postal facilities, people who might handle these packages.

Again, the FBI is treating this with the same caution that it did all of the other 14 such packages that were intercepted last week -- Erica?

[11:20:27] HILL: Evan, with the very latest on that. Evan, thank you.

Meantime, the man authorities believe sent the package bombs last week is set to make his first court appearance just a short time from now.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Miami outside the courthouse.

What else can be expect this afternoon, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, we're expecting a very short proceeding. We have learned that Cesar Sayoc, indeed, has a private defense attorney that will be representing him at this hearing. The hearing starts at 2:00 p.m.

Again, it's because of five federal charges. Here are those charges. Interstate transportation of an explosive device. Illegal mailing of explosives. Threats against former presidents and certain other persons. Threatening interstate communications. Assaults against federal officers. And if convicted, he could face up to 48 years in prison.

Now, about the actual proceeding, what will probably happen, again, it's going to be very short. What will probably happen is that the judge will read these charges to Sayoc, and from there, it's supposed to be very short. Now, this is a very high-profile case, and the southern district of New York has already expressed interest in prosecuting the case. So it's unclear at the moment if the hearing to remove him from Florida and transport him to New York will happen all today, all during this hearing, or he has the right to have a hearing for removal. So it's unclear what's going to happen. but we're sure going to learn more about his possible removal and how expedient that's going to be at about 2:00 p.m. today -- Erica?

HILL: Rosa, with the latest for us. Rosa, thank you.

Coming up, a progressive Jewish group in Pittsburgh writes an open letter to the president saying he's not welcome in their city until he tones down the rhetoric and disavows white nationalism. A member of that group is with us next.


[11:27:05] HILL: Amid growing calls for President Trump to unite the country in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, some are requesting the president stay away from the city. More than 18,000 people signing an open letter to President Trump. That letter reads in part, "For the last three years, your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murder evil, but yesterday's violence is a direct culmination of your influence. President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism."

Joining me now, Tammy Hepps and Kate Rothstein, who are members of that group that wrote the letter, Bend the Arc of Pittsburgh. It's part of a national progressive Jewish group that opposes President Trump.

I appreciate you both taking the time to be with us.

And we are going to talk about the letter, but first, I would love to hear more from you about, you are both in a series of photos that, for many people, have really become so much a part of this event as well, as we see you embracing one another, reading from a prayer book.

Could you take us back to that moment, Tammy, just what it was like for you to be there in those moments together and how you're all doing today?

TAMMY HEPPS, MEMBER, BEND THE ARC, PITTSBURGH: In that moment, we were both coming from our synagogue, which was just a little ways up the street from there. And we were all heartbroken and we were in shock. And what Jews do in times of mourning is that we recite Psalms. So the three of us went there to recite Psalms because that is what you do between the time of death and the time of burial. And I know that picture has become a touchstone for so many people, but we really want to emphasize there are Jewish people around the world reciting Psalms right now. There are people in our community who are in the Allegheny County medical examiner's office around the clock, taking hour shifts, reciting Psalms feet from where the victims of this murder are. And they'll be doing that until all of the bodies have been laid to rest. And then instead of reciting Psalms, they'll turn their attention to our sacred texts and they will be learning from that in the memory of the people who are murdered. So in that moment, we were just thinking we needed to do what Jews do. But we want you to know that we were three people who happened to be in front of a camera, but there are thousands of people around the world doing the same thing we did and praying for these people who were murdered in this way.

HILL: As much as you are reciting those prayers to also bring comfort, as I know, Kate, does being around someone like Tammy, does knowing that there are people around the world who are also reciting those Psalms, does it bring you some comfort in this moment?

KATE ROTHSTEIN, MEMBER, BEND THE ARC PITTSBURGH: It is good to be with community and with people who are able to support one another, to support one another in this time of terrible tragedy.

HILL: Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, from the Tree of Life Synagogue, was on here at CNN earlier today. He was asked specifically about the open letter. Take a listen to his response.