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Pittsburgh Community Reels Following Mass Shooting At Synagogue


How is Pittsburgh responding to Saturday's mass shooting? We've heard the bare numbers by now. One gunman with four weapons spent 20 minutes inside a synagogue. And by the time he surrendered, 11 people were killed. We've heard of his social media postings. He referred to conspiracy theories linking Jews to the caravan, migrants described as a threat by President Trump and others. He also attacked a Jewish refugee agency. Now let's hear about Pittsburgh, which is where we find NPR's Quil Lawrence. Quil, what is the neighborhood around the synagogue like?

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Squirrel Hill, it's a - the mayor says it's the most diverse community in Western Pennsylvania. You know, it's really green, big houses, a nice little downtown. People really love living there. Everyone I spoke to said they love it there.

INSKEEP: And this has been a time for them to mourn and to try to manage this. I understand there was an interfaith service last night.

LAWRENCE: Yeah. I mean, the night of the shooting, there was an impromptu vigil in the center of town. And people came out just to be together. Last night there was a huge gathering in an auditorium on a - at a soldier's memorial. In this grand auditorium, there were - with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address engraved in the wall behind all the speakers. But it - there was a Baptist choir singing, local faith leaders from Christian, Muslim, Jewish faith. It was packed inside. And then when I stepped outside, there were thousands more people standing in the rain just flowing down the steps under, you know, a thousand different colored umbrellas. And they all said they were there just to show solidarity, to show the Jewish community that they weren't alone.

INSKEEP: I want to call attention to one thing you mentioned there. You noted that Muslims were among those offering condolences to Jews here.

LAWRENCE: Yeah, there - I mean, people of all faiths were coming out to just say, we are with you; we are so sorry about what happened, but we won't let you go through this alone.

INSKEEP: So you also alluded, Quil, to an impromptu vigil on Saturday night. And there was a lot of commentary on social media about something that people chanted. They chanted on Saturday night in the candlelight vote, vote, vote, vote. In what way are people in Pittsburgh connecting this shooting to politics?

LAWRENCE: I mean, I think people are - have been unafraid in this community to just say, we think this is because of the political discourse. I've heard that a lot. And people aren't saying specific politicians' names all that often, but they're being very clear that they think the political discourse has descended. And that voices that used to be marginalized - I heard this a lot - people who used to be on the fringe are now right in the middle of the conversation. And people here are mad about it. They want to do something. People talked about - yeah - getting out to vote. They talked about trying to do something about guns.

INSKEEP: And, OK, something about guns, which gets to another question. What did you hear from some Pittsburgh residents anyway about what they want to be different?

LAWRENCE: I mean, you heard the - you could hear the mayor talking about wanting common sense changes, wanting to make sure that - they talked about assault rifles, that no one could sort of step into a house of worship with a weapon of war and kill so many people so quickly. But I'd say the shock is really just settling in. The funerals will probably start tomorrow.

INSKEEP: OK. Quil, thanks very much, really appreciate the update.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Quil Lawrence is in Pittsburgh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.