Pittsburgh Memorial Marks 1 Year Since Synagogue Shooting

Oct 27, 2019
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A year ago today, a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 worshippers. This evening, a public memorial is being held to mark the anniversary. We wanted to hear more about that memorial and also about how the community has tried to move forward in the years since the shooting. Lucy Perkins of member station WESA is with us now from a community gathering in Pittsburgh.

Lucy, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

LUCY PERKINS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What have you seen so far at the gathering?

PERKINS: Yeah. Well, this gathering was the largest so far this weekend. And when I got there, you know, well before the memorial even began, there were lines out the door. And it was a pretty somber event so far. They began by lighting 11 candles for the 11 victims who lost their lives last year. And there have been prayers by the rabbis of Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life, the three congregations that worshipped at the Tree of Life synagogue.

But more than anything, it really just felt like a place where people who didn't really know how to feel went to just be with one another. It's kind of this odd, horrible feeling of being a year away from an attack like this, yet all those feelings still feeling very fresh.

MARTIN: I understand, though, there have been events all weekend commemorating the events of last year. Can you just tell us a bit more about that?

PERKINS: Yeah. The whole weekend was just full of opportunities to kind of strengthen the community, for people to come together. I was in Squirrel Hill earlier today, actually, which is where the synagogue is. And there were blood drives where lines were hours long to be able to give blood.

There have been events where people are baking cookies to send to first responders, who obviously were really integral in preventing the tragedy from being worse than it was. And all of these events are kind of following this message that the city came up with last year that Pittsburgh is stronger than hate. That's really been a through-line through the entire recovery process.

MARTIN: Could you just talk a little bit more about that? What has that recovery process looked like?

PERKINS: Well, it's been really hard, especially for the Jewish community, of course. But it's also been a really slow process. I mean, for example, the synagogue is still fenced off. There are other synagogues in Pittsburgh that have opened their doors to those three congregations for them to worship there. And those synagogues that they went to are thinking about what they need to do, what kind of security measures they need to put in place.

One synagogue I've been to, you know, has added well over 50 panic buttons that connect directly to Pittsburgh police. The Jewish community is doing active shooter trainings - that those have been happening pretty consistently since the attack. So there's a lot of money and a lot of thought being put into how the city is going to move forward.

MARTIN: And just briefly, if you can, Lucy, unfortunately, a pattern has emerged because there have been so many of these instances of violence, but a pledge to strengthen gun laws is often part of that. Has that occurred in Pittsburgh?

PERKINS: Yeah. So after the shooting, the city council quickly - pretty quickly said that they would do something and pass local gun laws, and they did. They banned certain weapons, certain types of ammunition and accessories from being used in Pittsburgh. But, of course, those were challenged by gun rights groups really quickly, so that - we're still kind of waiting to see what happens with that.

MARTIN: That's Lucy Perkins of member station WESA in Pittsburgh.

Lucy, thank you so much for your reporting.

PERKINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.