‘It was senseless’: Pittsburgh’s public safety leaders reflect on synagogue shooting

“It was senseless.” Pittsburgh’s public safety leaders reflect on synagogue shooting

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich recently sat down with Channel 11′s Rick Earle to talk about one of the darkest days in Pittsburgh’s history.

“To see the innocent victims, the elderly. It was senseless, totally senseless. I’ve been on plane crashes, you know mechanical failures, but to have somebody do this, just the vengeance. There was no reason for it,” Hissrich said.

Hissrich is a former FBI agent and a veteran law enforcement officer. He was out of town when he got the call about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

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“You wake up and you see the text messages and you hope that maybe it was an exercise that you weren’t aware of. Soon after that, phone rang, and it wasn’t an exercise. Then you hope that the news would get better and it just kept getting worse,” said Hissrich.

Shubert was out to breakfast that morning in Robinson Township. He arrived on scene as members of his SWAT team were engaged in a fierce gunfight with the suspect inside the building.

“When you’re hearing your people being shot it’s tough,” Schubert said.

Four police officers had to be rushed to the hospital with gunshot wounds. Police wounded the suspect and he was taken into custody about an hour after the shooting started.

Hissrich and Schubert praised the first officers who arrived and encountered the suspect who they believe was attempting to leave the synagogue and possibly head to another location and continue shooting.

“If it wasn’t for the courageous act for the first officers on the scene and the teams that were in the building to include medics, the tactical medics that were in the building, I mean, we probably would have lost more lives,” Hissrich said.

In the days after the shooting, the chief turned his attention to the victims, his officers and the community.

“Our primary focus was one for the victims and for our officers, you know, not just the ones who were shot but the mental health of the officers and everybody else who was there. We also had to take care of the community. We had to keep them safe and be there for them to help make sure we all got through this together. Everybody remembers stronger than hate, and everything else that went on, that was a function for us. We had to make sure that people knew they were safe, and that public safety and the police were there for them,” Schubert said.

Two years later, all but one of the officers have returned to work. Dan Mead, who was the first officer on the scene, was shot in the hand. He continues to rehabilitate his hand and he hopes to one day return to the force.

Tim Matson, a SWAT member who was shot multiple times, just returned to work earlier this month.

“I knew it was going to happen, only because of talking to him. I’ve seen his dedication and his passion. He wasn’t going to let somebody take him down or take away what he loved. And you know, it was a very, very special thing for Pittsburgh police in the city of Pittsburgh when Tim returned,” Schubert said.

Target 11′s Rick Earle had an exclusive interview with Dan Mead. You can read or watch it HERE.

Remembering those lost in the Tree of Life attack