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MUPD trained for active shooting days before Pittsburgh synagogue massacre

Stars of David displayed in front of the Tree of Life Synagogue show the names of those killed in Saturday’s deadly shooting in Pittsburgh. Photo Courtesy of Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Julia Walters
Associate News Editor

Tragedy struck the city of Pittsburgh on Saturday morning when a neo-Nazi gunman opened fire in the Tree of Life synagogue. The synagogue is Pittsburgh’s oldest Jewish congregation in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. He killed eleven people and injured six, shouting that he wanted to kill Jews, during the regularly scheduled weekly service.

The gunman has been identified as 46-year-old Robert D. Bowers, an extremely outspoken neo-Nazi and anti-semitist, and was armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and three other handguns, all of which were used during the attack.

While it is unknown for sure at this time, it is tentatively believed that Bowers was looking to attack the Dor Hadash, a congregational group that supports helping and assisting refugees. Bowers, according to his online presence, believed that they were financially supporting an invasion of immigrants, specifically of Hondurans, to the United States.

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According to various reports, witnesses claim hearing as many as 30 shots. Once police officers arrived on the scene, Bowers attacked them as well. Both Bowers and two officers exchanged fire on one another. One officer was shot in the hand and the other had wounds from broken glass. According to an article from the Intelligencer, one FBI agent on the scene said that it was “the most horrific crime scene I’ve seen in 22 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

During the entire attack, Bowers was repeatedly shouting his desire to kill Jews. It took about an hour and a half for the SWAT team to finally corner Bowers and convinced him to surrender his weapons and be taken into custody. Though he was injured, none of these injuries proved to be fatal and he is still currently awaiting a hearing this coming Thursday, Nov. 1. He is currently facing over 60 charges, including “federal civil rights crimes and obstructing exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death,” according to the Intelligencer.

In the wake of such a terrible tragedy, this leaves Americans wondering if anywhere is considered safe anymore. Churches, synagogues, nightclubs, schools, and college campuses: these places are supposed to be places where people can go to worship, learn, relax, and unwind. Especially for students, how can we expect to be safe in the dangerous climate in which our country continues to find itself?

Chief Anders speaks at a swearing in event for new police officers on Oct. 16. The MUPD just completed active shooter training on Oct. 23 and 24. Photo Courtesy of Millersville University

The Millersville University Police Department recently held an active shooter training in one of the old residence halls last Tuesday and Wednesday in order to be more prepared if such an event were to occur on campus. Chief of Police Pete Anders discussed this in an email interview, saying, “Last week we hosted an ALERRT training on campus for instructors from East Hempfield and Millersville Borough Police Department with a local FBI agent from our region.”

Anders continued: “ALERRT is a nationally recognized active shooter response training for law enforcement. The training has both classroom and practical exercise with a goal of training regional police officers how to respond and move forward to end an active shooter event.”

This was not the first active shooter training that has occurred on campus. “This is the second police officer active shooter response training that we hosted. We hosted a training in Bard Hall over the summer with the PA State Police and local agencies. Each of the trainings were 16 hours of classroom and practical training for the patrol officers, and resulted in more than 100 officers being trained. Officers were trained with single, dual, quad, and team response to an active shooter event.”

Chief Anders continued, expressing the importance that these training sessions provide: “As a police commander who has responded to incidents with active gunfire, I feel it is incredibly important to provide officers the training that would best assist them to move toward gunfire. All of our patrol officers and supervisors participated in a training during the past four months.”

MUPD is also teaming up with the Environmental Health & Safety organization to continue providing more exercises for this type of training. “Pat Weidinger, [EHS Director] and I are working with our campus Emergency Response Team, the Center for Disaster Research and Education and Cabinet to provide a tabletop exercise this semester. The exercise will simulate how our administration, and managers should communicate and work as a team to respond and recovery from a disaster or emergency. We have conducted similar tabletop campus exercises, which is part of our preparedness.”

In addition to this, Anders went on to say that “our Student Affairs and Enrollment Management team has worked regularly to educate students and our community on the prevention piece, particularly with our BIT (Behavioral Intervention Team) team and with LiveSafe.” Educating students is a priority for Millersville to be extensively prepared for a situation such as an active shooter.

However, Anders believes that protection comes from each one of us: “Without question, our best defense toward preventing harm is to encourage our campus community to look out for and care for each other. Taking the time to check on someone or asking another person to check can prevent someone from harming themselves or even others. Most active shooter events have found that at least one person knew a shooting was likely to happen. It is really important if you have a serious concern to report it.”

If you see any suspicious activity on campus, do not hesitate and report the crime on the MUPD website or call (717) 871-4357.