Hundreds commemorate 6-month anniversary of Tree of Life slayings
Daniel Leger stood in front of a packed Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill and said that neither he, nor anyone else in the room Sunday afternoon, should have to be there.
“We shouldn’t have to be here today because of Columbine, because it was more than enough,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to be here today because of Parkland, because it was more than enough.”
Newtown, Charleston, Orlando, Aurora – they were more than enough, Leger said.
Leger survived gunshot wounds inflicted by accused gunman Robert Bowers, who walked into the Tree of Life synagogue during Shabbat services last Oct. 27 and opened fire, killing 11 worshippers and wounding two across the congregations Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash. Five responding officers were also wounded.
“We shouldn’t have to be here because of Pittsburgh, because it was more than enough,” Leger said. “We shouldn’t have to be here because of Poway yesterday, because it was way, way more than enough.”
On Saturday, the last day of Passover, a gunman walked into Chabad of Poway in Poway, Calif., and started shooting, killing one person and wounding three others.
“But we have to be here today,” Leger continued. “We have to be here to be able to support and encourage our local leaders as they pass legislation that our federal and state government is too broken and too inept to take care of for us. We’re here today to honor the memory of Joyce and Richard and Rose and Jerry and Cecil and David and Bernice and Sylvan and Daniel and Melvin and Irving.”
The gathering – part memorial, part rally — was hosted by the group born out of the Oct. 27 shooting called Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence.
The backdrop – a day after a synagogue across the country was attacked exactly six months after the massacre in Squirrel Hill – drew angst, heartbreak and confusion.
“I’m out of words. I don’t have any words to say anymore. I’m like you, I look at this and I’m beyond anger,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. “It’s beyond a question of anger or even sadness — it’s just a puzzle that I can’t figure out.”
An hour of speakers culminated with a peaceful march to Schenley Park, where a tree was planted in memory of the 11 slain congregants.
One after another, speakers called for action. They included Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, state legislators Sen. Jay Costa and Rep. Ed Gainey, city Councilwoman Erika Strassburger, and Tim Stevens, president of the Black Political Empowerment Project.
Stevens said all violence — police killing young men, black men killing other black men, children killing children, hatred fueling deadly attacks — is unacceptable.
“We’re all connected, if we want to be or we don’t,” he said. He held up a photo of Michelle Kenney, mother of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II, who was shot and killed last year by a suburban police officer. He said no one should ever feel the grief of a loved one lost to gun violence.
“It’s unacceptable,” Stevens said.
Strassburger, who co-sponsored the city’s assault weapon ban with Councilman Corey O’Connor, said the attacks against Pittsburgh and Poway come from the same hatred that has fueled violence against other groups.
“It’s my belief that hatred comes from fear — fear of the other, fear of displacement, fear of rejection,” she said. “But it’s hard to hate in person, and it’s even harder to hate up close. However, words have power.
”When our leaders at the very top stoke these fears to their political advantage and events — like we’ve seen here in Pittsburgh and so many other cities across the world, now in Poway — are paired with easy access to firearms, we will continue to see innocent lives lost.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .