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Pittsburghers Gather In Point State Park To Remember Victims Of Tree Of Life Shooting

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Virginia Alvino Young
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90.5 WESA
People take part in a moment of silence and gathering at Point State Park to remember the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting.

One week after the last funeral for the 11 people killed at Tree of Life Synagogue last month, the community is still mourning. Hundreds gathered at Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh Friday afternoon to honor lives lost, and celebrate the city’s strength.

*Updated at 4:33 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9.

The rain never let up throughout the outdoor gathering. Beneath a sea of umbrellas, attendees observed a minute of silence, and listened to speakers that included elected officials, professional athletes, and multi-faith leaders.

"I want to thank Pittsburgh's finest," said Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, flanked by first responders. "If it wasn't for Pittsburgh's finest, I wouldn't be standing here, addressing you today."

Myers, who pledged Friday never again to utter the word "hate," survived what was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, then handled funerals for his congregants.

A choir from Taylor Allderdice High School sang the popular theme song from the television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, joined on stage by Fred Rogers’ widow Joanne, and film star Tom Hanks. Hanks has spent time in Pittsburgh recently while he films a movie about Rogers.

Hanks lauded the city for its response of love and tolerance in the wake of the mass shooting.

“A visitor will know that Pittsburgh is a great city because Pittsburgh has been greatly tested,” Hanks said. “And in those trials, in your days of struggle, Pittsburgh has set an example of what can come next. And that what can come next can be good.”

Joanne Rogers spoke only one line – “let us replace guns with hugs.”

Hollywood star, and Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton also spoke. “If you want to see a city that is tolerant, accepting, and inclusive and compassionate you should go to Pittsburgh. If you want to bring hate, racism, prejudice, anti-Semitism, division, you can go to hell,” he said.

Other participants included Tree of Life victims’ families and rabbis from all three congregations who were meeting at the synagogue during the shooting, and officers who were wounded that day.

Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old truck driver, is accused of the shooting rampage that also injured six. He had pleaded not guilty to federal charges.

Authorities said he raged about Jews during and after the attack.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto reminded the crowd that the rally was taking place on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Nazi Germany's systematic assault on Jews and their institutions.

The mayor also remembered the victims of recent shootings at a supermarket in Louisville, Kentucky, a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, and a bar on Wednesday in Thousand Oaks, California.

The shooting was "our moment of broken glass," said Rev. Liddy Barlow, executive director of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania: "But this time, neighbors did not stand aside. First responders did not stand aside. Christians did not and will not stand aside."

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called the shooting "an attack on humanity."

"We have a lot of work to do to combat hate, whether it's on the Internet or in the shadows," Wolf told the crowd. "Our diversity is our strength. Spread love, be kind, take care of each other."

"I know how tight knit this community is," said U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, as he was leaving the rally. "We showed the nation exactly who we are. We are going to show the country a model on how to recover."

*This post was updated to include additional comments and context from the rally and speakers. 

Associated Press reporter Ramesh Santanam contributed to this report.