NJ cops, Jewish groups on alert after 11 killed in Pittsburgh
Jewish organizations and law enforcement agencies in New Jersey were on high alert Saturday after a gunman fired into a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing at least 11 people and injuring more, including four police officers.
Police said a suspect was in custody after the attack at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the suspect as Robert Bowers, who is in his 40s.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the Justice Department intends to file hate crime and other charges against the man. In a statement Saturday, Sessions said the killings were "reprehensible and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation."
It comes amid a rash of high-profile attacks in an increasingly divided country, including the series of pipe bombs mailed over the past week to prominent Democrats and former officials. The Camden offices of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., were swept on Friday after being targeted by a would-be bomber.
Camden Freeholder Jonathan Young on Saturday said county law enforcement officials have been discussing safety with religious organizations long before Saturday's attack in Pennsylvania.
"The governing body and law enforcement have protocols and procedures in place so we can work in tandem to keep our neighborhoods safe and keep residents informed," Young said in a prepared statement.
"Today, I’ve spoken with chief after chief and they have all reassured me that they are focused on their communities and will be strategically assessing their towns for additional patrols. In addition, I have asked all of our law enforcement partners to pay close attention to houses of worship and nonprofits with religious affiliations amongst our other sites throughout the county."
Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns III said he had contacted police departments in his Central Jersey jurisdiction "and they have been directed to remain vigilant and show an increased presence at houses of worship."
In West Windsor, Congregation Beth Chaim of Princeton Junction notified its members that police would on watch during religious school hours on Sunday.
"We also invite adults to gather tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. in our sanctuary to draw strength from our sacred community," the congregation said online. "May God give comfort to all who are now in mourning and strength to all of us who feel shaken by an act of such senseless hatred against our people."
Gov. Phil Murphy on Saturday called the attack on the Sabbath "simply jarring."
“Our thoughts are with all the families of Tree of Life Synagogue, the people of Pittsburgh, and the Jewish community. We also keep members of law enforcement in our prayers, especially those officers who were shot in the line of duty," Murphy said in a statement released by his office. “We must recommit to ending the scourge of gun violence and to restoring respect for freedom and diversity of religions upon which our nation is based.”
Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director, called it "a very horrific crime scene. It's one of the worst that I've seen and I've been on some plane crashes."
The attack took place during a baby naming ceremony, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. It was unknown whether the baby was harmed.
Until the suspect was taken into custody, the neighborhood and all synagogues in the city were in a lockdown, with people ordered to remain indoors.
President Donald Trump called the shooting "far more devastating than anyone thought," saying "it's a terrible thing what's going on with hate in our country."
Trump also said the outcome might have been different if the synagogue "had some kind of protection" from an armed guard and suggested that might be a good idea for all churches and synagogues.
Offering a different take, Pennsylvania Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, called the shooting an "absolute tragedy" in a statement that made reference to calls for tighter gun control laws.
"We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life," Wolf said. "But we have been saying "this one is too many" for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm's way."
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder called the shooting "an attack not just on the Jewish community, but on America as a whole."
The Associated Press and Sergio Bichao contributed to this report.