Two cities united by grief after shootings

I came from Pittsburgh hours after Wednesday’s shooting, where another gunman had killed 11 people less than two weeks before.

Both are well-off areas where nobody could have ever believed an atrocity like this could affect their community.

Thousand Oaks was the country’s 307th mass shooting – where four or more people are killed – in the US so far this year and the reaction is the same every time – how could it happen here?

People watch the procession carrying the body of Ventura County Sheriff Sgt Ron Helus
People watch the procession carrying the body of Sgt Ron Helus, a victim of the California shooting

When the third safest city in America this year becomes a victim, where is there to go? How many lives have to be taken for US gun laws to change?

Last month’s deadly shooting in Pittsburgh – at a synagogue – dominated the city’s midterm voting.

The tragedy in the Squirrel Hill district of the Pennsylvanian city is still very raw, and for many the end of the midterms represents a time when they can now grieve without the politics.

On Tuesday, the memory of the 11 people killed and six injured was marred as posters affiliated with the neo-Nazi Patriot Front group appeared on lampposts in the south Pittsburgh area of Brookline.

The tragedy in the Squirrel Hill district of the Pennsylvanian city is still very raw
Turnout across the city is thought to have reached record numbers

Pittsburghers had dealt with a lot, with most people in the city not appreciating Donald Trump swooping in to make the shooting part of the Republican election campaign.

There were protests when he came and his reaction definitely had an effect on voter turnout – illustrated by queues outside the Carnegie Library polling station just a few minutes from the Tree of Life synagogue.

Turnout across the city was estimated to have reached record numbers.

People protest the arrival of US President Donald Trump as he visits the Tree of Life Congregation on October 30, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Demonstrators made clear their opposition to the president’s visit last month

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In the next door student area of Oakland triple the number of people came to vote than in 2016, resulting in a firm Democratic win.

Across Pittsburgh people of all faiths and backgrounds were wearing T-shirts supporting the Jewish community, saying #strongerthanhate, while many voters were given stickers with the same slogan.

President Trump places stones outside Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh


Donald and Melania Trump visited Pittsburgh in the wake of last month’s synagogue massacre, sparking protests

Carnegie Mellon University student Jacob Feldgoise, 19, told Sky News: “There was a lot of frustration, anger and sadness.

“The shooting hit me very very hard, and hit a lot of my friends extremely hard as well.

“It was so unexpected. This felt like a safe place for us and it doesn’t feel nearly as safe as it did.

Pittsburgh police released audio of the moment they found the synagogue shooter
Eleven people were killed in the massacre at the Pittsburgh synagogue

“The fact that Trump decided to come days after the shooting, a lot of us were very upset about that.

“This is a very liberal area, especially in Squirrel Hill, most people disagree with what he’s done, his platform, his vitriol.

“So to have him come and pay his respects days after a traumatic event like that and try to force his perspective on gun rights down our throats was just insulting.

“It was uncalled for and it was too soon.”

People were keen to vote after Mr Trump’s visit, in opposition to him, but for most their visit to the polling booth was just a few moments away from focusing on their devastated community.

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Following the massacre, more than $556,000 (£427,000) was crowdfunded to support the Tree of Life synagogue, the victims’ families and its three congregations.

Local businesses donated tens of thousands of dollars, while individuals mostly donated $200 or less, showing just how much support it has had.

As one Pittsburgher said: “We will not be divided by this, the whole city has come together over a tragedy we never thought would happen here.”

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