At approximately 9:50 am ET on October 27, 2018, numerous members of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh were worshiping at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue when angry shouts were abruptly heard. As forty-six year old Robert Bowers burst into the multi-story building, he began to fire shots from his gun and would not stop until about twenty minutes later.
By the time police had arrived at the synagogue to confront and arrest the gunman, eleven people had been killed. One of those killed was a Jewish physician who had sacrificed his own life to check on the injured. The victims, ranging from ages fifty-four to ninety-seven, had been at the synagogue’s morning service, and their devastated relatives and friends honored them with vigils and eventually funerals.
In all, six people were wounded, and four of them were officers who had rushed to respond to the incident. Fortunately, their injuries were not life-threatening. This entire shooting, however, was still the most fatal attack on a group of Jews on U.S. soil. The gunman was allegedly an extremely anti-Semitic individual and had a long history of disparaging and hating Jews on his social media, and this shattering attack was a painful reminder to many people of an old, deep-seated hatred.
About a week and a half after this shooting in Pittsburgh, calamity stuck again in Thousand Oaks, California on November 8th. Twenty-eight year old Marine Corps veteran Ian David Long arrived at the local Borderline Bar and Grill around 11:20 pm PT and shot several security guards standing outside before entering the bar and rapidly shooting patrons. Most of the people inside the bar were college students that had come for a country night event.
At first, according to witnesses, the shots which came from outside the bar had seemed like sounds effects from the music that was being played, but as soon as the gunman entered the bar, chaos ensued. People tried to shelter behind furniture and hide while others broke windows with chairs and tried to escape through the windows as gunfire rang out. When law enforcement came to the bar, they found the gunman dead from a self-inflicted wound and a tragic scene unfolding.
All together, twelve people were killed, and more than twenty others were injured. As this devastating event sunk in, numerous stories of courage transpired. Sergeant Ron Helus, the first officer to respond, was shot and killed when he risked his life and rushed inside the bar to apprehend the gunman. College student Sarah Deson described how her friend Cody, who did not survive, saved her life by helping her to escape. “He’s one of the reasons that I’m here right now,” she said, adding that he will “always be my hero.”
The cities of Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks were supposed to be two of the safest in America, yet these two shootings and their aftermaths will always affect these places and the people involved for the years to come.