By Kalhan Rosenblatt and Tom Winter
A suspect was in custody on Saturday morning after a fatal shooting with multiple casualties near the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where Sabbath services were taking place, according to local officials.
At least 12 people were injured, three of whom appeared to be law enforcement and at least of eight which were fatalities, according to preliminary information from multiple senior law enforcement officials.
It is believed the suspect was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and multiple handguns.
Congregants told MSNBC that a circumcision celebration, known as a bris, was taking place in the synagogue this morning.
Pittsburgh Public Safety tweeted on Saturday morning that there was an active shooter in the area around the synagogue and said to avoid the area. Pittsburgh Police Commander Jason Lando said there were multiple casualties and said it was imperative neighbors in the surrounding area sheltered in place.
Jeff Finkelstein, CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh since 2004, told NBC News affiliate WPXI that he rushed to the area when he heard about the shooting.
“I just feel horrible for all those people inside,” Finkelstein said. “You know, everyone thinks about Israel in situations like this. It’s just shocking to come back to Squirrel Hill and see something like this.”
Rabbi Chuck Diamond, a former spiritual leader of Tree of Life, told reporters that he never spoke to his congregation about what to do during a shooting, but it’s something he thought about.
“There’s a lot of anti-Semitism out there and a lot of hate out there,” Diamond said. “Sobering that it’s touched our community.”
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Pittsburgh field office were also responding to the shooting incident.
“There is an active shooter near the Tree of Life in Squirrel Hill. Residents, please stay indoors. Our officers are on the scene,” Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor wrote on Twitter.
President Trump tweeted about the shooting on Saturday, saying that he was keeping an eye on the unfolding events in Squirrel Hill.
“People in Squirrel Hill area should remain sheltered. Looks like multiple fatalities. Beware of active shooter. God Bless All!” Trump wrote.
Vice President Mike Pence also tweeted his prayers to the victims and said he was also monitoring the situation.
“Monitoring reports of shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Praying for the fallen, the injured, all the families impacted, and our courageous first responders,” Pence wrote. “God bless them all.”
Watching the events unfolding in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Law enforcement on the scene. People in Squirrel Hill area should remain sheltered. Looks like multiple fatalities. Beware of active shooter. God Bless All!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2018
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted that Pennsylvania State Police were also assisting with the shooting.
“We are still learning details about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh but it is a serious situation … keep the congregants and law enforcement in your prayers,” Wolf wrote.
Shabbat morning services began at 9:45 a.m. at Tree of Life Congregation, according to its website. The Conservative congregation was founded more than 150 years and is led by Rabbi Hazan Jeffrey Myers, who came to the synagogue in August 2017.
Saturday mornings are when Shabbat is observed in the Jewish faith and is typically a busy time at synagogues.
Squirrel Hill is considered a historic Jewish enclave and center for Jewish life in Pittsburgh, and it is considered home to more than a quarter of Jewish households in the Pittsburgh-area, according to a Brandeis University study of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community. More than 80 percent of Squirrel Hill residents said they had some concern or were very concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism. Many also reported incidents of anti-Semitic experiences in the past year, from insults and stereotypes to physical threats or attacks, according to the study.
This is a developing news story. Check back for more information.
Kalhan is a news reporter for NBC News. The former “Florida woman” writes news of the day and features. She’s been with NBC News since late 2016. She also serves as a homepage and social media editor for MSNBC.
Kalhan lives in New York City.
Tom Winter is a producer and reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit based in New York. He covers crime, courts, terrorism, and financial fraud on the East Coast.
Previously he has covered high-profile criminal trials, including those of George Zimmerman, Jerry Sandusky trial and Martha Stewart. In addition, he has covered major breaking news events such as the shootings at Virginia Tech and Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and the bombing of the Boston Marathon. While in the New York Bureau, he also covered several hurricanes and natural disaster events.
Winter has over 10 years of experience in radio, television, and online writing and production. He started his career at NBC News as an intern on the TODAY Show and has worked at NBC station WCAU in Philadelphia as well as the National News Desk and the New York Bureau.
Phil McCausland contributed.