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Pittsburgh Holds Vigil To Honor Victims In Synagogue Shooting


We are here at WESA in Pittsburgh. And, not far from here, thousands are gathering to remember the 11 people who were shot to death at a local synagogue. The Jewish Community Center is leading the community gathering held at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland, Pa. Faith leaders and politicians from throughout Pennsylvania - and beyond - have gathered in a packed auditorium. NPR's Quil Lawrence is outside the community - service now, and he's been talking to members of the Pittsburgh community all day. Quil, welcome. Thank you so much for talking to us.


MARTIN: It sounds like a huge gathering there today. What is it like at this event?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. There's a beautiful hall inside the auditorium. And in the backdrop is Abraham Lincoln's entire Gettysburg Address. I just stepped away. At the beginning, there was a Baptist choir, an African-American Baptist choir singing. I mean, this is an event hosted by the Jewish community, but it was a clear symbol of the whole Pittsburgh community standing in solidarity. And the music was beautiful and really soothing to many in the crowd. There were people weeping, including reporters. I'd say there may be 3,000 people inside. And as I left to come out and speak with you, I had to pass through another 3,000 people sitting outside in what's now very chilly rain, listening to the same service over speakers.

MARTIN: That sounds lovely now. You also spent some time in Squirrel Hill, the neighborhood where this attack occurred. What was the mood there?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. I mean, people were out in Squirrel Hill trying to kind of have their normal life in a way of farmers' markets, people going to Sunday services. And you could see the diversity of the community. It's notably Jewish, but it's really a bit of everything. People are trying to be normal, but they're also trying to explain this. I spoke to a woman coming out of Sixth Presbyterian church. Brittney Storian (ph). And she's an eighth-grade English teacher. She just, Friday, took her students to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Here's what she said.

BRITTNEY STORIAN: I came today to wait in patience to know what to say. I think I'm going to let them read some of the articles, the news articles. And I want us to sit and talk as a class and just give them a space to kind of process what happened and what they felt. They were really moved by the museum. We've been citing the Holocaust for weeks.

LAWRENCE: And people were saying that, you know, in a little town like this, you never think it can happen. But, in today's America, they realize it can happen anywhere.

MARTIN: And, to that point, this is a small-ish city. And the victims of the shooting were identified this morning, and people are probably just finding out that they may have known someone who was affected. How are people absorbing this?

LAWRENCE: Yeah. It's another wave of shock to hear the names. I ran into Dan Frankel, who's the - he's the state representative - Pennsylvania state representative from this district. He went to Hebrew school at the Tree of Life when he was 11 years old. And he knew two of - the two brothers who were killed, David and Cecil Rosenthal. Here's what he said.

DAN FRANKEL: And they were really special sweet men who I'd known for many years. And whenever I go to Tree of Life for a bar mitzvah or a wedding or, you know, some kind of occasion, the two of them are always in the sanctuary.

LAWRENCE: He talked about, you know, centuries of anti-Semitism but, more recently, an uptick of hate speech in this country.

MARTIN: And now, finally, Quil, what is next? What are people saying is next?

LAWRENCE: I felt like people were in this sorrow - this sort of cycle of sorrow and then pride in the solidarity that the community is showing and then this rage that a man could come here with an assault rifle and massacre 11 people in 20 minutes while they were praying. Most of these people were old enough to be grandparents. But the community is trying to take action. They say they want to do something. They say - talk about guns. They talk about trying to tone down the rhetoric in this country. And many of them talked about upcoming elections and wanting to be active.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Quil Lawrence. Quil, thank you.

LAWRENCE: Thank you. 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.
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