Cleveland 19 reporter reflects on covering deadly Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

People hold candles as they gather for a vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the...
People hold candles as they gather for a vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)(AP)
Updated: Oct. 29, 2018 at 4:24 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Eleven people were killed and six others were injured, including four police officers who ran toward danger to prevent more carnage.

It was the deadliest attack on people of Jewish heritage in U.S. history.

Those are numbers that are hard to digest.

Veteran Cleveland 19 photojournalist John Baligush and reporter Lacey Crisp traveled to Pittsburgh to cover the shooting at a Jewish synagogue.

As they drove up to the intersection of Murray and Forbes, there was still a crowd holding candles and sharing hugs.

A woman with tears in her eyes explained her parents lived 50 feet from the synagogue. She heard there was a shooting on the street, but didn’t hear where. She frantically tried to get a hold of her parents. When she couldn’t get through to them, she panicked. They finally got back to her saying they were safe, but many inside the synagogue were not.

A neighbor just down the street from the Tree of Life Synagogue was listening to police scanners when he heard the shooting reports. Moments later he heard the sirens screaming down his street. He quickly sent his kids to the basement to take cover.

The next day, that man put up the Pittsburgh Steelers logo that had been altered to include the Star of David. He said he was sent the new logo and thought it was fitting to show how strong the community was, in the face of evil.

After attending a press conference with leaders from the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s office, mayor, medical examiner, police chief, and many more, Cleveland 19 learned the gruesome details about how Robert Bowers hunted the worshipers in three different areas of the synagogue, shooting and killing as he continued. He had multiple guns, and had posted several racist and antisemitic slurs on social media.

Cleveland 19 also learned the lengthy list of victims, ranging in age from 54 to 97. There was a husband and wife, and two brothers among the deceased.

At the synagogue after the press conference, members, friends, family and complete strangers left flowers, messages, candles and more to remember those who were attacked.

A poignant moment was caught on video where a little boy placed a single flower at the growing memorial.

“We had just finished an interview and something compelled me to walk up ahead towards the synagogue. It was a haunting image, the innocent paying respect to the innocent,” Baligush said of the moment.

The 2-year-old boy’s mother explained the youngster had just learned to wave goodbye. He waved as he walked up to the synagogue and wanted to be the one to place the flower. He continued to wave as they walked away.

At a massive vigil at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, the room was packed. All the seats were taken, and crowds were standing in the rows and in the vestibule.

The auditorium is already filling up, and the vigil isn’t scheduled to start for another hour #PittsburghSynagogueShooting

Posted by Lacey Crisp on Sunday, October 28, 2018

Several different faith leaders spoke, including a Muslim leader who said his community started a fundraiser immediately after hearing news of the shooting. They had raised $70,000 to cover funeral and medical bills. He offered his support in whatever way was needed, adding, “If you need money, we will raise it. If you need us to stand outside so you feel safe praying, we will do so.”

This mass shooting was eerily similar to the attack at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek where six people were killed, says Crisp, a reporter who worked in Milwaukee in 2012. A gunman filled with hate walked into both peaceful temples as people prayed and carried out the most violent attack.

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