Updated 4 p.m.
Today’s Rally for Peace at Point State Park began in silence.
At precisely noon, a hush fell over the peninsula. No one stirred. Only the sound of a cold rain falling and of traffic moving in the distance carried through the air.
Hundreds assembled there to pay their respects to the 11 people killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill just under two weeks ago, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history and the second deadliest U.S. mass shooting of the last two weeks. It has been charged as a hate crime.
The audience gathered under umbrellas and listened as a collection of interfaith leaders, celebrities and lawmakers took to a stage positioned in front of the iconic fountain and heaped praise on Pittsburgh for its poise and virtue on the international stage following a catastrophic — and previously unthinkable — tragedy.
“When I watched what was happening in Squirrel Hill, I was dumbstruck by the elegance and the grace and the high-mindedness” of the city, said actor Michael Keaton, a native of nearby Coraopolis who watched the events at Tree of Life unfold from California.
“From the outside looking in, you guys looked really good.”
Tom Hanks, who became a notable cheerleader for Pittsburgh this summer while in town filming his Mr. Rogers film “You Are My Friend,” was joined on stage by Rogers’ real-wife widow, Joanne, at today’s rally.
“Visitors know Pittsburgh is a great city because it’s been greatly tested,” Hanks said. “[And] Pittsburgh has shown us what does come next, what good comes when people […] love their neighbors with no exceptions.”
Moments later, while waiting for a choir from Taylor Allderdice to make it to the stage for a rendition of “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Mrs. Rogers added, “Let us replace guns with hugs.”
Those six words drew one of the biggest crowd reactions of the day.
Watch the rally here:
Wolf called for a redoubling of efforts to prevent this kind of violence and said he was committed to “working toward a Pennsylvania where this violence is the abnormality it must be.”
Peduto spoke even more forcefully of the need for “common-sense reforms” to “end this type of violence.” Peduto pointed to this week’s mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, a racially motivated shooting that killed two in Louisville, Ky., days before Tree of Life, and the recent murders of two women at a yoga studio in Tallahassee.
Other speakers included Sen. Bob Casey, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, former Steelers including Franco Harris, former Pirates, Roberto Clemente Jr., Wasi Mohamed of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, and Rev. Liddy Barlow of the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the Tree of Life shooting, spoke viscerally of his experience and his sense of loss in a vigil held the day after the Oct. 27 shooting at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. Today, Myers called hatred “an evil that corrodes from within.” He also thanked Pittsburgh police, saying, “Without them I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
Six people, including four responding police officers, were wounded in the shootings at Tree of Life. Two of those officers, Daniel Mead and Michael Smidga, were on stage today. Two others, Anthony Burke and Timothy Matson, were not.
Today’s rally also coincided with the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a campaign of terror waged by Hitler’s government against Jews across Nazi Germany and which began on Nov. 9, 1938.
Heightened security was in place for the event. The Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety, State Park Rangers and several partner law enforcement agencies were present.
Those who braved the elements to attend today’s gathering said they felt compelled to be there and to participate in a moment of reflection.
Wendy Ruano of Glenshaw said she wanted a chance “to stop and remember the victims” and “felt like this would be a good way to honor them along with so many people from Pittsburgh.”
A teary-eyed Linda Benedict of Edgewood said she was out of town when the Tree of Life shootings took place and during the spontaneous public gatherings that followed. “I felt proud to be here today, but I probably cried through the whole thing.”
Tony Remis of Plum touched on the feeling of many here today, saying that while the mourning of Tree of Life victims will continue, our focus must also turn to the work of finding solutions to prevent similar deaths in the future.
“I came to show not only that I love Pittsburgh but that we need to make some changes in this country. […] We need more love. We need less hate. And guns — guns have got to change. Enough is enough. Why wait for more people to die? Why wait for more things to happen? The time is now. Right now.”