Local media reported that eight people were dead after a man began shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday. A police official told reporters there were “multiple casualties” but authorities did not immediately confirm numbers of fatalities.
The local CBS affiliate KDKA reported that police had exchanged shots with a gunman at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood. People barricaded inside had made calls out, the same station said, adding that people had also been wounded.
Police officials told waiting media the gunman was in custody and three officers had been shot. They did not confirm the number of fatalities.
Pennsylvania’s governor, Tom Wolf, tweeted that he was “headed to the scene” and confirmed the suspect was in custody.
“We are providing local first responders with whatever help they need,” Wolf wrote.
KDKA reported the suspect was “white male [with] a beard” and said he “walked in yelling ‘All Jews must die’”. A reporter described “an exchange of gunfire between the police and suspect on the third floor” and “two officers shot in that exchange of gunfire”. The gunman was injured and surrendered after negotiation, the station said.
Jeff Finkelstein, chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, told reporters the Tree of Life was a “Conservative” synagogue and said a little more than half of the Jewish community in the greater Pittsburgh area lived in and around the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
The shooting was reported to have happened shortly after 10am. Michael Eisenberg, a past president of the synagogue, told media there would have been three simultaneous congregations’ services going on Saturday morning in the main building, with 30 to 40 people in two larger services and about 15 in a smaller one.
“We’ve never had any threats,” he said, adding that the synagogue had consulted with the Department of Homeland Security and other synagogues about safety precautions, including making doors easier to open from the inside so people could escape.
KDKA said some of its reporters lived close to the synagogue, and some reportedly have friends affiliated with it.
The Pittsburgh public safety department tweeted a plea for people to “please stop calling all Public Safety cell phones. It is draining batteries and interfering w[ith] comm[unications]”.
In Washington, Donald Trump tweeted that he was “watching the events unfolding in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Law enforcement on the scene. People in Squirrel Hill area should remain sheltered. Looks like multiple fatalities. Beware of active shooter. God Bless All!”
Vice-President Mike Pence said on Twitter he was “praying for the fallen, the injured, all the families impacted, and our courageous first responders. God bless them all.”
At the scene late on Saturday morning, a light rain fell as police officers cordoned off the area.
“I don’t really have words to describe it,” said one local resident, a graduate student from Germany who lives down the street from the synagogue and did not wish to be named. “I’m not from the US and this is the second time I’ve been near the scene of a mass shooting.”
The student said she previously lived near the scene of the 2014 Isla Vista shooting in California, in which six people were killed.