‘I’m barely breathing’: Synagogue survivor recounts terror

Associated Press

Pittsburgh – At least 2,000 mourners packed Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh and thousands more stood outside at a vigil for the 11 who were killed during Sabbath services at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said he began services at 9:45, and the shooting started a few minutes later.

He said there were 12 in the sanctuary at the time, most sitting in the back.

Myers said: “I helped pull out the people that I could from the front. But, alas, I had eight people in the back. One fortunately survived.”

Myers said: “I’m a survivor. I’m a mourner.”

He added: “Seven of my congregants were shot dead in my sanctuary. My holy place has been defiled.”

A survivor of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre described Sunday how he and other terrorized worshipers concealed themselves in a supply closet as the gunman stepped over the body of a man he had just shot and killed, entered their darkened hiding spot and looked around.

“I can’t say anything, and I’m barely breathing,” recalled Barry Werber, 76, in an interview with The Associated Press. “He didn’t see us, thank God.”

Six people were injured in the attack, including four officers.

Mayor Bill Peduto called it the “darkest day of Pittsburgh’s history.”

Bowers shot his victims with an AR-15 – the weapon used in many of the nation’s mass shootings – and three handguns, all of which he owned legally and had a license to carry, according to a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation, and who spoke Sunday on condition of anonymity.

U.S. Attorney Scott Brady in Pittsburgh said Sunday night that federal prosecutors intend to pursue the death penalty against Bowers.

Bowers was a long-haul trucker who worked for himself, Brady said.

Little else was known about the suspect, who had no apparent criminal record but who is believed to have expressed virulently anti-Semitic views on social media. It appears Bowers acted alone, authorities said.

Hundreds of people also gathered in the nation’s capital to remember the 11 congregants killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

A vigil was held Sunday evening in Washington’s Dupont Circle to pay tribute to those killed a day earlier at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

Mourners sang and prayed together. Others held lit candles and held signs, including one that read “Tree of Life victims deserve better.”

Some in the crowd wept as the names of the 11 victims were read aloud.

Police say the suspected gunman, Robert Bowers, told police he wanted to “kill Jews.”

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined religious leaders and other elected officials to condemn the shooting and vowing to protect the city’s Jewish communities from violence.

The Democrat spoke outside a Manhattan synagogue Sunday afternoon with Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

De Blasio says the people of New York stand with the victims of Saturday’s shooting and their families. He says, “Violence against people because of their faith does not represent our values.”

De Blasio says city police will be out in force to protect synagogues and Jewish centers.

Israel’s president also sent a message of solidarity after the mass shooting, saying Israel stands with the Jewish victims and the Pittsburgh community.

In a videotaped message set to open an interfaith vigil Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin will tell participants: “You are not alone! The people of Israel and the entire Jewish people stand with you!” That’s according to a transcript of the message provided by his office.

“We must say loud and clear – this was an act of anti-semitism,” Rivlin says, according to the transcript. “We cannot, we must not, we will not ignore it or tolerate it.”

Rivlin, who acts in a mostly ceremonial capacity, will conclude his message of consolation by reciting the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.