PITTSBURGH: Pittsburgh prepared to hold three more funerals on Wednesday for Jewish victims of a shooting rampage at a synagogue that has become the focus of a fierce political debate about white nationalism and anti-Semitism ahead of hotly contested U.S. congressional elections next week.
Eleven worshippers were gunned down on Saturday morning by a man who stormed into the Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fire, yelling antisemitic statements including: "All Jews must die." It was deadliest attack on Jews in the United States.
Funerals were due to be held on Wednesday for Melvin Wax, 88, the man who was leading Sabbath services when the attack began, retired real estate agent Irving Younger, 69, and retired university researcher Joyce Fienberg, 75.
Mourners began showing up in gray, cool weather, hours before Fienberg's mid-morning funeral at the Beth Shalom Synagogue as police blocked off surrounding streets.
The early crowd was lighter than the one for the Tuesday funeral of brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, widely known and praised as "the helpers" at Tree of Life.
The aftermath of the tragedy pervaded life in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood where the synagogue is located.
In coffee shops, customers talked about the victims they knew. In the street, friends embraced while trying to comfort one another during the period of raw grief.
The synagogue attack has heightened a national debate over Republican U.S. President Donald Trump's rhetoric, which critics say has contributed to a surge in white nationalist and neo-Nazi activity. His administration denies he has encouraged far-right extremism and is instead attempting to unify America.
Amid the first funerals for victims on Tuesday, Trump visited Tree of Life.
Thousands protested his presence in the city, accusing him of using rhetoric that has fuelled antisemitism in America.
Several thousand protesters, an ethnically mixed crowd of all ages, held an anti-Trump rally about a block away from the synagogue just as his visit began on Tuesday, singing Old Testament psalms and carrying signs with such slogans as: "We build bridges not walls."
Trump made no public comments during his visit, but wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning that his office had been "shown great respect on a very sad and solemn day" in Pittsburgh.
"Small protest was not seen by us, staged far away," he tweeted. "The Fake News stories were just the opposite-Disgraceful!"
More than 1,800 people came to pay their respects on Tuesday at Rodef Shalom, another synagogue in the Squirrel Hill district at the heart of the city's Jewish community.
Trump's visit to Pennsylvania's second-largest city came seven days before elections that will determine whether his Republican Party maintains control of both houses of Congress or whether the Democrats seize a majority in one chamber or both.
The accused gunman in the synagogue attack, Robert Bowers, was charged on Monday with 29 federal felony counts including hate crimes. He is due to make a second appearance in federal court on Thursday.
Wax, a retired accountant who had just become a grandfather, was leading Sabbath services when he was shot and killed, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
"He was a gentle man. Easygoing, simple, quiet," his friend Bill Cartiff told the newspaper.
Fienberg spent 25 years as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center until she retired in 2008.
"She was an engaging, elegant, and warm person," the centre said on Facebook.
Younger, whose funeral will also be held at Rodef Shalom, was remembered as a doting grandfather.
In a social media post on Saturday morning, Bowers referred to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a nonprofit refugee resettlement agency, as helping to "bring invaders in that kill our people," declaring: "I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."
(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by John Stonestreet and Jeffrey Benkoe)