PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It was Saturday morning, Oct. 27, and President Donald Trump was about to get on Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base.
“So we’ve been following very closely the events at Squirrel Hill.”
He went on to express his outrage about the situation, saying, “Pittsburgh’s a great community, incredible people. Spoke to the governor, spoke to the mayor. To see this happening again and again and again is just a shame.”
That phone call to Mayor Bill Peduto came on the mayor’s cell phone as he stood outside the Tree of Life Synagogue.
“We had just given the all clear for Tree of Life, Pittsburgh detectives were about to go in,” Mayor Peduto said. “It was cordial, he offered his assistance in any way possible. I gave him the update in the increase in fatalities and wounded. He was not aware of that, and was sort of taken a back.”
President Trump would tell reporters at Andrews, “The results are coming in and they are far more devastating than anyone thought in the morning.”
The mayor says as the gravity of the situation set in, the conversation took a turn he wasn’t expecting.
“Bill, I don’t know what your position is on the death penalty, but I think we need to increase it. And the amount of time it takes for trials like this when you have the person in custody in order to get to the death penalty.”
Mayor Peduto heard the president’s comments, but didn’t respond.
“Well, I was at that point, dealing with 11 fatalities that were down the street. Just trying to grapple with how we were going to set up the critical care centers, the coordination with the FBI to get info to the families and the condition of the police officers. It wasn’t the first thing on my mind,” Mayor Peduto said.
Despite reports Peduto abruptly ended the conversation, he says, “It just ended naturally. I wasn’t responding to the questions, I just thanked him. It was cordial and we agreed to work together.”
At that moment, the mayor recalls, “There’s a level of emotion that almost makes you numb at that point, and hearing details that were coming from inside was really at the forefront of my mind.”
Mayor Peduto says when he heard President Trump wanted to come for a visit, he tried to convince the White House to wait until after the funerals. In essence, wait until this week when he “probably” would have joined President Trump and the First Lady.
“I can’t tell a president not to come, but I can try to coordinate what becomes our priorities, which are the families and the officers,” Mayor Peduto said.
When President Trump and Melania Trump came to pay their respects, the mayor says, “There were two people in the hospital and two officers. I believe he visited the two officers. There were 11 victims’ families, I believe he visited one.”
Mayor Peduto says his decision not to meet with President Trump was not political. His priorities that day were elsewhere.
“Three days after, we had only had two out of 11 funerals. The priority was with them, and if I had to make that decision 100 times again, I’d make the same decision and be with those families and our officers,” Mayor Peduto said.