PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Hundreds of people, possibly up to 1,000 or more, gathered in Squirrel Hill on Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil to remember the 11 victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting and show support for their families and the Jewish community.READ MORE: Following Violent Incidents, Head Of Pittsburgh Federation Of Teachers Says Action Is Needed Now
The vigil was organized by Taylor Allderdice High School students, and included singing, speeches and a general sense of community togetherness.
KDKA’s Pam Surano Reports —
“We all have so much more in common than we have to differentiate us, and I think nights like tonight remind us of that,” said Jeremy Blanche-Schwartz, who attended the service.
The large crowd gathered at Forbes and Murray Avenues, at the base of the Carnegie Library around 7 p.m., just blocks from the synagogue where the shooting happened. Nearby, at the Sixth Presbyterian Church, an interfaith service was going on at the same time.
Squirrel Hill resident Allison attended both the interfaith service and the vigil.
““It’s horrible. It’s so surreal just to see us on the news, this is such a gentle place. I mean Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, went to our church. This was the neighborhood of that TV show, and to think that in a place where you would love your neighbor, this would happen, is just, it’s horrible.”
One of the organizers of the vigil, Emily Pressman, is a student at Allderdice, which is located right in the Squirrel Hill community.
“I didn’t think that this many people would listen to students, so it’s kind of crazy,” said Pressman.
WATCH: Candlelight Vigil —
She said she just felt the need to feel a sense of togetherness in the face of tragedy and sadness.
“Seeing everyone here is just really heartwarming,” said Pressman. “This is just for the community to get together and be together. It’s for everyone, but it’s really just to warm our souls.”
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Love rules over hate in Squirrel Hill. Taylor Allderdice High students are joined by hundreds community wide to counter violence with peace. #PrayersForPittsburgh @KDKA live service on now. pic.twitter.com/B3M93zvdmL
— PamSuranoKDKA (@PamSuranoKDKA) October 27, 2018
U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle, who attended the vigil, said he found inspiration from the young people who took the time to organize the get together.
“This was a very emotional, beautiful vigil, so proud of our community, our hearts are broken from this senseless, senseless hate crime against the Jewish community,” Rep. Doyle. “To see these young students say what they had to say and to show that strength and the sense of community that exists here, that this is not something that we’re going to let break us, was really inspiring.”
WATCH: Rep. Doyle —
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Pressman said she never expected to see so many people come out, but said it shows just how much the community is coming together.
“Looking around, I am extremely surprised by how many people are here; but at the same time, I’m not, because the community of Squirrel Hill is so close knit that I think that everyone would want to be together right now,” she said.
During the vigil, many recalled the moments earlier in the day when they heard the news.
“When everything hit, I ran to the congregation because most of my congregation doesn’t use a cell phone on Shabbat, so I didn’t think they knew what was going on,” said one woman who attended the vigil. “So I ran in, and they welcomed me in because they had their doors open on Shady [Avenue] for anyone who needed refuge.”
Allderdice student Cody Murphy said a man fleeing the bullets took refuge in her home.
“Just trying to call his wife and his kids to tell them he is okay,” said Murphy, “because he didn’t have his phone because it is Shabbat.”
Murphy said the vigil gave her a sense of purpose in such a difficult time.
“Having people to talk to and communicate with is just helpful during this time, because you want to do something, but there’s not really anything you can do except share your love with others,” Murphy said.
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The vigil lasted for about 20 minutes and mourners remained gathered well after the formal ceremony wrapped up, comforting one another and keeping the sense of community going.