Offering prayers and making speeches, Pennsylvania lawmakers came together in an unusual joint session Wednesday to commemorate the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack that killed 11 people last year.
The service was held a day after the Pittsburgh mayor signed new gun control measures that were introduced weeks after the attack. The legislation was immediately challenged in court by gun rights advocates who argued municipalities may not impose firearms regulations that go beyond what state law allows.
Attending Wednesday's event were members of the House and Senate along with members of the three congregations victimized in the October 27 shooting at the Tree of Life.
"A dark and despicable act inspired thousands to reach out and find ways to lift up their grieving and terrified neighbors," Governor Tom Wolf said in a statement earlier Wednesday.
A truck driver named Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, has pleaded not guilty to charges that could bring the death penalty, though his lawyer said last month she hopes the case will be resolved without a trial.
Authorities say Bowers expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage, which also wounded seven people, and subsequently told investigators "all these Jews need to die." Investigators have said he posted online criticism of a Jewish charity that helps immigrants, saying it "likes to bring invaders that kill our people."
Lawmakers have introduced identical resolutions that highlight the history of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and remember the victims individually. They establish April 10 as Stronger Than Hate Day in Pennsylvania.
"In the painful aftermath of the attack, the singular phrase that arose from the heartbroken city of Pittsburgh became 'Stronger Than Hate,'" the resolutions said. "The General Assembly thanks the first responders, rabbis, staff, lay leadership and hundreds of members of these synagogues who helped their family and friends."
Attendees included Dor Hadash Rabbi Cheryl Klein and New Light Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, whose congregations were victimized in the attack.
Wolf, who also attended, said the shooting continues to haunt him and his wife, Frances Wolf.
"But we continue to be inspired by the ways in which the people of Pittsburgh came and stood together in the face of hatred and violence," he said in the statement. "We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who chose love over hate."
Officials said it appears that the only other time state lawmakers from both chambers came together in a joint session over a tragedy occurred two weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
State Rep. Dan Frankel, whose district includes the site of the attack, said he wanted the Legislature to do more than his remarks on the House floor in early November, but it would not have been appropriate in the immediate aftermath to ask actively grieving people to come to Harrisburg. The Legislature was dormant through December, and the joint session was scheduled to accommodate other massacre-related events in Pittsburgh as well as the lawmakers' session schedule, Frankel said.
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