Monday 18 November 2019

Trump family honour victims of synagogue shooting

The US President and First Lady’s visit to Pittsburgh has proven controversial, with protesters gathering to make their feelings known.

First lady Melania Trump, accompanied by President Donald Trump, puts down a white flower at a memorial for those killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (Andrew Harnik/AP)
First lady Melania Trump, accompanied by President Donald Trump, puts down a white flower at a memorial for those killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (Andrew Harnik/AP)

By Zeke Miller Allen G Breed and Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have paid solemn tributes to each of the 11 people slain in the worst instance of anti-Semitic violence in American history.

As the Trumps placed their remembrances outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, protesters nearby shouted the president was not welcome.

The Trumps first went inside the vestibule of the synagogue, where they lit candles for each victim before stepping outside.

It revealed the political divisions troubling the nation in the aftermath of the Sabbath shooting as shouts of “words matter” and “Trump, go home” could be heard from demonstrators gathered not far from where a gunman had opened fire on Saturday.

ipanews_4ba09848-cfe7-4514-bf62-6a63fd4ecb34_embedded239426079
From left to right: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, President Donald Trump and Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was conducting services when the shots rang out, led the couple outside and gestured at white Jewish stars posted for each victim.

At each, the president placed a stone, a Jewish burial tradition, while the First Lady added a flower.

They were trailed by First Daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who are Jewish.

ipanews_4ba09848-cfe7-4514-bf62-6a63fd4ecb34_embedded239425986
Donald Trump places a stone from the White House at a memorial for those killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Flowers, candles and chalk drawings filled the nearby corner, including a small rock painted with the number “6,000,011”, adding this week’s victims to the estimated number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Squirrel Hill resident Paul Carberry, 55, said President Trump should not have visited until the dead were buried, and he decried the president’s divisive rhetoric.

“He didn’t pull the trigger but his verbiage and actions don’t help,” Mr Carberry said.

ipanews_4ba09848-cfe7-4514-bf62-6a63fd4ecb34_embedded239426081
Protesters demonstrate near Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue (Matt Rourke/AP)

Hundreds of protesters assembled to show their displeasure with Mr Trump’s presence.

When Air Force One touched down at the airport outside Pittsburgh, the Trumps were not greeted by the usual phalanx of local officials that typically welcomes a visiting president, a reflection of the controversy surrounding the visit.

Local and religious leaders were divided on whether Mr Trump should have come.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat, told reporters before the visit was announced the White House ought to consult with the families of the victims about their preferences and asked that the president not come during a funeral.

Neither he nor Democratic Governor Tom Wolf planned to appear with Mr Trump.

As his motorcade wound through downtown Pittsburgh, some onlookers saluted the president with upraised middle fingers and others with down-turned thumbs.

The White House invited the top four congressional leaders to join Mr Trump in Pennsylvania but none accompanied him.

ipanews_4ba09848-cfe7-4514-bf62-6a63fd4ecb34_embedded239425903
Donald Trump and wife Melania outside the synagogue (Matt Rourke/AP)

A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he already had events in his home state of Kentucky, pushing back on the suggestion he declined.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office said he could not attend on short notice.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also opted not to participate.

Questions have long swirled about the president’s credibility as a unifier.

Since his 2016 Republican campaign for the White House, Mr Trump has at times been slow to denounce white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other hate-filled individuals and groups that found common cause with his nationalistic political rhetoric.

Mr Trump travelled to the historic hub of the city’s Jewish community as the first funerals were held for the victims, who range in age from 54 to 97.

The dead include a set of brothers, a husband and wife, professors, dentists and a physician.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr Trump would meet any family members.

His language has encouraged hatred and fear of immigrants, which is part of the reason why these people were killed Marianne Novy

Those who live in the tight-knit community were uncertain about whether they wanted the presidential visit.

To Marianne Novy, Mr Trump was not wanted “unless he really changes his ways”.

For David Dvir, politics should take a pause for grief. He said: “It’s our president and we need to welcome him.”

Ms Novy, 73, a retired college English professor, said she signed an open letter asking Mr Trump not to come to Pittsburgh.

“His language has encouraged hatred and fear of immigrants, which is part of the reason why these people were killed,” she said.

Just minutes before the synagogue attack, the shooter apparently used social media to rage against HIAS, a Jewish organisation that resettles refugees under contract with the US government.

Mr Dvir, 52, the owner of Murray Avenue Locksmith in Squirrel Hill, said of Mr Trump: “I think he made some mistakes but he is a great president.”

He added it would be “a shame” if the community protested the president’s visit.

PA Media

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News