Pittsburgh shootings bewilder residents

BY SUSAN KIM | PITTSBURGH | April 29, 2000


PITTSBURGH (April 29, 2000) -- A violent rampage across four

Pittsburgh suburbs that killed at least five people, impacted

thousands of others who live in the neighborhoods that came under

attack. It was the second, seemingly random shooting incident to

strike the Pittsburgh area in less than two months.

A gunman, driving 20 miles across four Pittsburgh suburbs, shot and

killed people in what police are suggesting, may be a racially

motivated incident. The victims included a Jewish woman, a black man,

two men of Asian descent, and man of Indian descent. A second Indian

man was critically wounded. Shots were fired in or near a private

home, two synagogues, a karate school, a grocery store, and a

restaurant. A suspect in the incident, has been arrested by police.

The violence began in the community of Mount Lebanon, where the

gunman killed his first of five victims and where he resided with his

parents. There he also fired shots at Beth El Congregations, a

synagogue less than a mile away where his first victim was a member.

The synagogue's glass doors were shot out, the word ``Jew'' was

painted on the front, and swastikas were painted on its outside

walls. Shots were also fired at another synagogue in the Carnegie

neighborhood.

Other synagogues and churches in the area are taking offerings and

planning special prayers for their Beth El Congregations and other

groups affected by the violence, said the Rev. Andrew Harvey, pastor

at the Mount Lebanon United Methodist Church.

The Beth El Congregations will still hold a holocaust memorial

service next Sunday as planned. Harvey said that Christian and Jewish

groups had historically had a close relationship in the Mount Lebanon

community. His church shares a music director with a Jewish

congregation. "But we also share a love and a high regard for one

another," he said.

"I think we need a lot more time and chances to gather as a community

across denominational lines," added the Rev. Eugene Hrabovsky, pastor

at St. James Lutheran Church.

Holy Trinity Baptist Church, which was already planning a community

festival for June, is now planning to invite people willing to speak

about violence prevention, said Linda Morris, who is helping to plan

the event.

Inner city pastors, while expressing sympathy for their suburban

peers and offering their help, said that this type of violence

doesn't seem unusual to them. "We have shootings every day," said the

Rev. William D. Morgan, pastor at the Emory United Methodist Church

in inner-city Pittsburgh. "There is such poverty, such need, such

craziness."

Morgan's church offers a variety of neighborhood support programs in

cooperation with community agencies. "In my neighborhood, if you are

able to help someone, it is a dramatic help," he said. He has been a

pastor at Emory church for six years.

Major Josephine Howard of the Salvation Army also said such violence

happens often in her Pittsburgh neighborhood but it doesn't get

widely reported. "Somebody was stabbed behind our building. Another

person was shot," she said, adding the Salvation Army is prepared to

offer counseling for people affected by yesterday's attack.

Residents said they were disturbed by what appeared to be cold and

calculated violence. "Obviously that guy had planned everything out,"

said Morgan.

Some also admitted that they were surprised to see such a lashing out

by a man who seemed to have no reason to hate. The man charged with

the crime "was a successful professional man, a lawyer, a man without

a police record before he did this," said the Rev. Jeff Kistler,

pastor at the Middletown Baptist Church. "I mean, this just shows we

can't pigeonhole the types of people who are going to do something

like this."

Police arrested Richard Scott Baumhammers, 34, an immigration lawyer

and the son of Latvian immigrants who lived in suburban Mount

Lebanon. The FBI has joined the investigation because of the

possibility that the crimes were racially motivated.

Friday's shooting is the second incident of its kind in suburban

Pittsburgh since March, when a black man allegedly yelled racial

epithets and killed three white men in the Wilkinsburg community.

Immediately after the shooting the Covenant Church of Pittsburgh,

situated across the street from the office building in which the

gunman held hostages, opened its doors to survivors. Pastors from the

Wilkinsburg Ministerial Association gathered to minister to people

and help them contact their families. The association is still

planning long-term activities to promote healing and community unity.

Expressions of sympathy -- mixed with fear -- are extending from

across the nation. "It could have happened here, too, said Morgan.

"We share our building with a Korean United Methodist Church

congregation and I can't help but think about that."

Some church leaders in the Pittsburgh area are looking at how to make

their buildings safer. More than 900 United Methodist churches in

western Pennsylvania attended a training event called "Safe

Sanctuaries," said the Rev. Beverly Gross, pastor at the Walton

United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh. "We focused on how to make our buildings safe places that are free from everything to gun violence to

child abuse."

Those churches are currently compiling safety policies they will

submit to their regional conference, she added.

Area pastors report that, while trying to comfort upset parishioners,

they are trying to make sense of the tragedy themselves. "I was

floored, absolutely floored," said Kistler. "I'm still sorting it out

in my mind."

Posted April 29, 2000


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