Trump says armed guard in synagogue may have changed outcome

US President Donald Trump called a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday a wicked act of mass murder and pure evil and called on Americans to rise above hate and move past divisions.
VIDEO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Donald Trump decried "hate" in the United States while saying Saturday's (Oct 27) deadly attack at a synagogue in Pittsburgh may have ended differently if there had been an armed guard inside the building.

In his first extensive response to the latest mass shooting in the US, Mr Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington that "it's a terrible, terrible thing what is going on with hate in our country".

"If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple, it could have maybe been a different situation," Mr Trump said, adding that the US should "stiffen up" its death penalty laws.

The president plans to speak more about the shooting at an event in Indiana.

The comment on arming places of worship could reopen a bitter debate over gun laws and the political influence of the National Rifle Association, two weeks before midterm elections that will decide control of Congress.

A movement to arm teachers took root earlier this year after the massacre of 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

"It hurts every time I see these headlines and then the political inaction," Mr David Hogg, a Stoneman student who has become a gun-control advocate, said on Twitter.

"Squirrel Hill my heart is with you. We will fight for you every single day."

Pittsburgh authorities said a suspect surrendered and was in custody after the shooting that caused multiple casualties. At least four people were dead and six injured, according to city officials cited in media reports.

'HORRIFIC' SCENE

Officials haven't yet said whether or not there was armed security at the Tree of Life Congregation, located in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood about 16km from downtown. Many Jewish houses of worship and community centres in the US have boosted security in recent years in response to attacks or threats.

"It's a very horrific crime scene. One of the worse I have seen," Mr Wendell Hirssrich, Pittsburgh's director of public safety, said in a media briefing.

The FBI will be taking the lead as the investigation continues.

 

Boarding Air Force One, Mr Trump termed the incident "just a shame to watch".

The president is heading to the Farmer Farmers of America meeting in Indianapolis, and has a rally later in Illinois.

"Events in Pittsburgh are far more devastating than originally thought," the president said earlier on Twitter.

US and foreign leaders decried the shooting. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, called the shooting an "absolute tragedy". Israeli Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video message that he "was heartbroken and appalled by the murderous attack".

"There is no place in our society for violence against innocent people, especially violence motivated by race, religion, or sex," Mr Norm Coleman, a former US senator from Minnesota who chairs the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in a statement.

"The level of hate in this country is out of control."

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said on Twitter: "The attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue was a horrific act of evil. We must recognise this hatred for what it is, and come together to fight it."

Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina tweeted that "it's beyond disturbing that anti-Semitism continues to exist and fuel such evil".

Saturday's incident comes a day after a Florida man was arrested and charged in connection with mailing at least 13 suspected explosive devices that targeted high-profile Democrats including Jewish billionaire-philanthropist George Soros, former president Barack Obama, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and the cable network CNN.