Just hours after a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue claimed the lives of at least eight people and wounded six others, President Donald Trump expressed his desire for swift capital punishment for the suspect and renewed his calls for armed guards at houses of worship.
"Anybody that does a thing like this where innocent people that are in temple or in church -- we’ve had so many incidents with churches. They should suffer the ultimate price," Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One. "They should pay the ultimate price. I’ve felt that way for a long time. Some people disagree with me. I can’t imagine why. But this has to stop."
Police responded this morning to reports of active gunfire at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha congregation, where a service as taking place, officials said. The suspect is in custody and has been taken to the hospital, according to authorities, and the incident is being investigated by the FBI as a federal hate crime.
Trump focused on the death penalty and the need for armed guards to protect worshippers.
"When people do this, they should get the death penalty," he said. "They shouldn’t have to wait years and years. Now the lawyers will get involved. Everybody’s going to get involved and we’ll be 10 years down the line."
But after arriving in Indiana, where he is slated to speak before the Future Farmers of America, Trump called the shooting an "anti-Semitic crime."
"What happened today is a horrible, horrible thing," Trump told reporters in Indiana. "It looks definitely like it’s an anti-Semitic crime. That is something you wouldn’t believe could still be going on. But it would seem to be an anti-Semitic crime."
He called the shooting a "wicked act of mass murder" in remarks at the Future Farmers of America national convention, saying it was even harder to comprehend that this happened at a "baby-naming ceremony." Trump called on Americans to condemn anti-Semitism and "rise above the hate."
"Today, with one unified voice, we condemn the historic evil of anti-Semitism and every other form of evil. And we come together as one American people," Trump said.
Trump invited Pastor Thom O'Leary and Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow, both from the Indianapolis area, to offer a prayer together at the event.
Sendrow called on Americans to stand "tirelessly" with Trump as he fights evil on all fronts, adding "may we always remember that the presence of a few evil people among us does not divide this country."
Trump also said he had spoken to the mayor of Pittsburgh, the governor of Pennsylvania and his daughter and son-in-law, who are both Jewish, while aboard Air Force One. Trump said he considered canceling his rally in Illinois later tonight but decided he had to go, saying we shouldn't let evil change our schedule and allow them to dominate what we do.
"A lot of people killed. A lot of people very badly wounded," Trump said of the shooting. "It is one of the worst that some professionals that have seen many, many crime scenes -- they say it is one of the worst that they've seen."
Trump went on to call for more armed guards at places of worship to protect congregants.
"It’s presumed that this is a case where if they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately," he said. "And so this is a case where if they had an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop them, maybe nobody would have been killed except for him. So it’s a very, very difficult situation."
Trump emphasized that the suspect in the shooting should get the death penalty. He also described the differences of facing a mass shooting as a civilian and as the president.
"You know, before I ran for office I watched incidences like this with churches and other things. I’d say, 'What a shame. What a shame.' But it’s even tougher when you’re the president of the United States and you have to watch this kind of a thing happen," Trump said.
Later on Saturday afternoon, with the death toll at 11, Trump signaled that he will change the tone of his typical rally speeches, telling reporters that "tone is very important."
He said he was enthusiastic about being on the campaign trail, but that Saturday's mass shooting had changed things.
"Tonight, I will absolutely change my tone," he said.
Yet it wasn't to be.
After assailing what he described at the Indiana rally as an "evil, anti-Semitic attack" and an "assault on humanity," Trump resurfaced his calls for capital punishment, saying the person responsible for Saturday's synagogue shooting should "have to pay the ultimate price."
"We have to draw a line in the sand and say, very strong, never again."
Saturday night's Illinois rally was held in a congressional district carried by President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Given that history -- and GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner's unpopularity in the state -- Democrats see the area as one of several possible pick-up opportunities that could help them flip at least 23 sears and win control of the House.
After hinting earlier in the day that he might cancel Saturday night's rally out of respect for the dead and wounded in Pittsburgh, he told the crowd that he was inspired to attend the rally by the late New York Yankees' owner and friend George Steinbrenner -- and his resolve for the Yankees to play after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
Trump also claimed that the New York Stock Exchange remained open, though it was closed for six days after the attacks.