Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was a mass shooting that occurred at the Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation[a] in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018, while Shabbat morning services were being held. Eleven people were killed and seven were injured. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.
|Pittsburgh synagogue shooting|
|Part of Mass shootings in the United States|
|Location||Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation,|
5898 Wilkins Avenue,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
|Date||October 27, 2018 |
9:54–11:08 a.m. (EDT)
|Target||Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation|
|7 (including the suspect)|
|Accused||Robert Gregory Bowers|
The sole suspect, 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers, was arrested and charged with 63 federal crimes, some of which are capital crimes. He has pleaded not guilty. He separately faces 36 charges in Pennsylvania state court. Using the online social network Gab, Bowers had earlier posted anti-Semitic comments against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in which Dor Hadash and Tree of Life were supporting participants. Referring to Central American migrant caravans and immigrants, he posted on Gab shortly before the attack that "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."
Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation is a Conservative Jewish synagogue. The synagogue describes itself as a "traditional, progressive, and egalitarian congregation". It is located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1 mile (1.6 km) east of Carnegie Mellon University and about 5 miles (8.0 km) east of downtown Pittsburgh. The Squirrel Hill neighborhood is one of the largest predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in the United States and has historically been the center of Pittsburgh's Jewish community, with 26 percent of the city's Jewish population living in the area.
Originally founded as an Orthodox Jewish congregation in 1864 in downtown Pittsburgh, Tree of Life merged in 2010 with the recently founded Congregation Or L'Simcha. The modern synagogue building, located at the intersection of Wilkins Avenue and Shady Avenue in Squirrel Hill, was built in 1953; it rents space to Dor Hadash,[b] a Reconstructionist congregation; and New Light, another Conservative congregation. The synagogue's main sanctuary has a capacity of 1,250 people.
Although Squirrel Hill has a low crime rate and is not generally regarded as racially tense, local rabbinic student Neal Rosenblum was murdered in the neighborhood in 1986 in an antisemitic hate crime.
The massacre occurred just after two independent reports from Columbia University and the Anti-Defamation League saw a spike in anti-Semitic activity online, especially on the popular social networking platforms Instagram and Twitter.
The immediate rise in the months of August to October was connected to the 2018 US midterm elections, with a similar rise having occurred during the 2016 US election, with the midterms being a "rallying point" for far-right extremists to organize efforts to spread antisemitism among the populace online. The intervening years between 2016 and 2018 saw rising indicators of antisemitism in American public life, including a 57% rise in antisemitic incidents in 2017 in context of rising hate crimes against other groups including Muslims and African Americans as reported by the FBI, a wave of vandalizations of hundreds of Jewish gravestones in Pennsylvania and Missouri, and a multiplication by 2 of antisemitic incidents on university campuses. In 2017, the widely publicized Charlottesville riots featured Nazi symbols, salutes, and the slogan "Blood and Soil"  amid explicit and implicitly racist and antisemitic rhetoric. Online, the reports found a large proportion of the antisemitic material was spread through the medium of conspiracy theories concerning wealthy Jewish individuals including billionaire George Soros, with Columbia University's Jon Albright claiming these represented the "worst sample" of all the hate speech he had seen on Instagram.
At 9:45 a.m. three services were underway in the Tree of Life synagogue which housed three congregations. Tree of Life and New Light had both just begun separate Shabbat morning service in the Pervin Chapel and basement, respectively. Dor Hadash was near the front of the building before their 10:00 a.m. Torah study session.
At 9:50 a.m. EDT (13:50 UTC), a gunman described as a "bearded heavy-set white male" entered the building, opened fire and was "shooting for about 20 minutes". He was armed with a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle (cited by authorities as an "assault rifle") and three Glock .357 SIG semi-automatic pistols, all four of which he fired, according to authorities. Approximately 75 people were inside the building at the time. The first two shot were the Rosenthal brothers at the main entrance, after which the shooter headed downstairs to New Light. Some hearing the shots did not initially recognize what they were: upstairs Rabbi Jeffrey Myers thought it was a falling coatrack.
At 9:55 a.m., the leader of New Light's services, Melvin Wax, was shot after exiting a closet, but the shooter did not notice the other three congregants who remained in the closet. Two other members of New Light (Gottfried and Stein) were killed in the basement kitchen. Dor Hadash lost one member, Jerry Rabinowitz, a physician who had left the congregation at the sound of gunshots to see if anyone had been hurt.
At 9:57 a.m., the shooter left the basement and headed upstairs to the larger Tree of Life service. About 13 worshippers had gathered for the Shabbat service of the Tree of Life congregation in an upstairs chapel. Myers helped four of them evacuate the chapel through a side door, but eight of the worshippers remained behind, of whom seven were killed and one wounded by the gunman.
At 9:59 a.m., police arrived at the synagogue. The gunman fired on police from the entryway, apparently on his way out of the building, and police returned fire, causing the gunman to retreat into the building.
At 10:30 a.m., tactical teams entered the building and were again fired upon by the gunman. Officers returned fire and wounded him, leading him to retreat to a room on the third floor of the synagogue. In the exchange of gunfire two SWAT members were also wounded, one critically.
At 11:08 a.m., the gunman crawled out of the room in which he was hiding and surrendered. As he received medical care in police custody, he allegedly told a SWAT officer that he wanted all Jews to die, and that Jews were committing genocide against his people, according to a criminal complaint filed in Allegheny County.
Eleven people were killed, including three on the ground level and four in the synagogue's basement. Among the dead were two brothers (the Rosenthals) and a married couple (the Simons). At least six others were injured, including four police officers. Five people were transported to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, four requiring surgery, while one was treated and released by the afternoon. Another victim was transported to UPMC Mercy, while the suspected shooter was taken to Allegheny General Hospital, where three Jews were among those who treated him. Those killed were:
- Joyce Fienberg, 75
- Richard Gottfried, 65
- Rose Mallinger, 97
- Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
- Cecil Rosenthal, 59
- David Rosenthal, 54
- Bernice Simon, 84
- Sylvan Simon, 86
- Daniel Stein, 71
- Melvin Wax, 88
- Irving Younger, 69
Of the four injured officers, three were shot and one was injured by glass fragments.
Robert Gregory Bowers (born September 4, 1972), a 46-year-old resident of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, was arrested as the suspected shooter. Bowers' parents divorced when he was about one year old. His father reportedly committed suicide at the age of 27, when Bowers was about 6 years old. Bowers' mother remarried to a Florida man when Bowers was a toddler, and he lived with them in Florida until they separated a year after their marriage. Upon returning to Pennsylvania, Robert and his mother lived with his mother's parents in Whitehall. His grandparents took responsibility for raising him, because his mother suffered from health problems. Bowers attended Baldwin High School in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District from August 1986 to November 1989. He then dropped out of high school and worked as a trucker. Neighbors described Bowers as "a ghost" and said he rarely interacted with others.
According to accounts by Bowers' coworkers of 20 years ago, and analysis of his recent social media posts, what started out as staunch conservatism transitioned into white nationalism; at one point Bowers was fascinated by radio host Jim Quinn but at a later point he became a follower of "aggressive online provocateurs of the right wing’s fringe." He was heavily involved in websites such as Gab and promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories through social media sites.
Gab has been described as "extremist friendly" to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the alt-right. Bowers' Gab profile was registered in January 2018 under the handle "onedingo", and the account's description was: "Jews are the children of Satan (John 8:44). The Lord Jesus Christ [has] come in the flesh." reflecting Christian Identity beliefs. The cover picture was a photo with the number 1488, which is used by neo-Nazis and white supremacists to evoke David Lane's "Fourteen Words" and the Nazi slogan Heil Hitler. He published posts which supported the white genocide conspiracy theory such as one which said "Daily Reminder: Diversity means chasing down the last white person". Bowers also stated that supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory were "deluded" and being tricked. He also re-posted content by other anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, white nationalist/supremacist and Holocaust-denying users such as Patrick Little and /pol/, as well as reposting comments in support of the Southern California-based alt-right fight club Rise Above Movement (RAM) who were present at Charlottesville and were later convicted and arrested by the FBI in October for violence against counterprotestors and the "Western chauvinist" Proud Boys (led by Gavin McInnes) who were arrested for violence against Antifa outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City the same month. He also criticized President Donald Trump for being a "globalist, not a nationalist" and for supposedly being controlled and surrounded by Jews. In another post, he wrote, “There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation.” Other posts attacked African Americans with racial slurs and images related to lynching, and attacked women who have relationships with black men. He also used his online accounts to post conspiracy theories regarding investor and philanthropist George Soros. Bowers also had links to the far-right and neo-Nazis in the United Kingdom according to security sources.
A month before the attack, Bowers posted photos showing the results of his target practice, and a photo of his three handguns, calling them his "glock family". In the post, he identified the .357 SIG handguns as Glock 31, Glock 32, and Glock 33.
Bowers also worked with alt-right associated blogger and League of the South (another organization present at the Charlottesville riots) member Brad Griffin (aka Hunter Wallace) of Occidental Dissent on doxxing an unidentified left-wing blogger posting "that address is not the most current for him. I can get you the most recent outside of gab".
In the weeks before the shooting, Bowers made anti-Semitic posts directed at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) who sponsored National Refugee Shabbat of October 19–20, in which Dor Hadash and Tree of Life participated. He claimed Jews were aiding members of Central American caravans moving towards the United States border and referred to members of those caravans as "invaders". Shortly before the attack, in an apparent reference to immigrants to the United States, he posted on Gab that "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in." According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "the mention of 'optics' references a disagreement that has raged within the white nationalist movement since the Unite the Right rally in 2017 about how best to get their message across to the general public".
After the shooting, Gab suspended Bowers' profile and pledged to cooperate with the criminal investigation. Shortly after the attack, PayPal, Stripe, Joyent, and Medium pulled their support for Gab, and GoDaddy, which the Gab domains were registered under, required Gab to relocate their domain name hosting to a different service in the wake of the shooting, effectively shutting Gab down in the short term.
Criminal charges and proceedingsEdit
Bowers appeared in federal court in Pittsburgh on October 29, to hear the charges against him. His attorney was appointed by the court and he was remanded to the custody of the United States Marshals Service without bail pending further hearings. Bowers was indicted on 44 counts by the federal grand jury on October 31. The charges carry a maximum penalty of death or 535 years in federal prison. The counts included hate crimes, 11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence, four counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer, and three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence. On November 1, Bowers entered a plea of not guilty, "as is typical at this stage of the proceedings" his public defender said.
On January 29, 2019, the grand jury indicted Bowers on an additional 19 counts, 13 of which were for hate crimes. On February 11, 2019, Bowers was arraigned in federal court. Bowers is represented by defense attorney Judy Clarke.
Bowers was also charged with 36 state criminal counts, including 11 counts of criminal homicide, 6 counts of aggravated assault, 6 counts of attempted criminal homicide, and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.
President Donald Trump, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, and Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O'Connor released statements about the incident through Twitter. Trump called the shooting a wicked, antisemitic act of "pure evil." He also opined that the shooting was preventable: "If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him". Trump suggested cases such as this call for the death penalty.
Cecilia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union said the attack, along with other recent unrest, was inspired by elements of Trump's rhetoric. Vice President Mike Pence denied any such connection in an NBC News interview that night. Over 2,000 people, including many from the local Jewish community, protested against Trump's presence, chanting "words have meaning", and carrying signs with such slogans as "We build bridges not walls".
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the "horrifying anti-Semitic brutality", adding "the whole of Israel grieves with the families of the dead." Israel's education and diaspora affairs minister, Naftali Bennett, immediately left for Pittsburgh to visit the synagogue, meet with community members, and participate in the funerals of the victims, and directed the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs "to assess and prepare to assist the Pittsburgh Jewish community, 'including the need for emergency and resilience teams that immediately left Israel for psychological assistance and community rehabilitation.'" Israel's cabinet stood for a moment's silence on October 28 to honor the victims.
Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau said "any murder of any Jew in any part of the world for being Jewish is unforgivable". He described the location as "a place with a profound Jewish flavor". Many news reports said he refused to refer to the Conservative congregation as a "synagogue" since it is non-Orthodox, but in the interview in question, he asked rhetorically, "Why does it matter in what synagogue or what liturgy they were praying?!" (emphasis in the original). Prominent non-Orthodox Israeli religious leaders and scholars rejected his statement.
Tel Aviv Municipality lit their city hall building with the colors of the American flag in solidarity with the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. An image of the Israeli flag next to the American flag was projected onto Jerusalem's Western Wall.
Pope Francis denounced the "inhuman act of violence" in his Sunday prayers in St. Peter's Square on October 28, leading prayers for the dead and wounded, as well as their families. He asked God "to help us to extinguish the flames of hatred that develop in our societies".
Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif offered his thoughts and prayers to the victims of the shooting, and said "Extremism and terrorism know no race or religion, and must be condemned in all cases".
Jan Kickert, Austrian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said: "The attack ... was an attack on all of us, on what we stand for – religious liberty, human rights. We are committed to the safety and security of Jews wherever they are. I say this with growing up and living with the shame that my forefathers were among the worst perpetrators in Nazi times."
Immediately after the shooting, the campus of Carnegie Mellon University was placed on lockdown and all university-sponsored activities were cancelled for the day. At the same time residents were advised by police to remain in their homes and stay off the streets.
An unusually large proportion of the Pittsburgh Jewish community from all denominations participated in local Jewish rituals related to death and mourning. Jewish tradition requires a person to guard a corpse until it is buried. Volunteer guards (shomrim) took one-hour shifts at the Pittsburgh morgue until the bodies were moved to funeral homes. The Atlantic reported "most of the volunteers appeared to be Orthodox, but they felt strong solidarity with the liberal communities that were directly affected by the shooting."
Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers attended the joint funeral service for the Rosenthal brothers on Tuesday, October 30, when NFL teams are traditionally off. The brothers, who were intellectually disabled, had a sister who is a former employee of the team.
Media and organizationsEdit
A CNN editorial described the shooting as one of three hate-incited acts that took place in the United States in the same week, along with a series of mail bombing attempts and the Jeffersontown Kroger shooting.
On October 28, the Empire State Building darkened its lights in honor of the victims. According to the building's Twitter account, the top of the spire was left aglow with "an orange halo shining a light on gun violence awareness". The Eiffel Tower also darkened its lights in tribute to the victims of the shooting. In the wake of the shooting on October 27, the University of Pittsburgh darkened its traditional Victory Lights atop of the Cathedral of Learning, and on November 2, the university altered the Victory Lights so the blue beam would shine for only 11 seconds, one second for every victim who lost their life.
Sports teams that observed a moment of silence for the shooting victims included the Pittsburgh Steelers at their home game against the Cleveland Browns, the New Orleans Saints at the Minnesota Vikings, the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Vancouver Canucks, the Winnipeg Jets at the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars playing in London, and the Pittsburgh Panthers hosting Duke at Heinz Field. A moment of silence was also observed before Game 4 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium on the night of October 27.
The Pittsburgh Penguins wore jerseys with a patch that read "Stronger Than Hate" for their game against the New York Islanders on October 30. The team announced that, following the game, the team would auction off the jerseys on behalf of the synagogue. Similarly, the University of Pittsburgh Panthers football team displayed a "Stronger than Hate" decal on their helmets during the November 2 game visiting the University of Virginia.
Vigils and ralliesEdit
On the evening of the shooting, over 3,000 people gathered at the intersection of Murray and Forbes Avenues in Squirrel Hill for an interfaith candlelight vigil organized by students from nearby Taylor Allderdice High School. Two additional vigils were also held in the neighborhood.
The day after the shooting, an interfaith vigil organized by the regional Jewish Federation was held at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, drawing an overflow crowd estimated at 2,500. The event was attended by numerous national and local dignitaries, and featured a number of speakers, including the rabbis of the three congregations which occupied the synagogue building, Islamic and Christian clergy, and civic leaders. Among those in attendance were Bill Peduto, mayor of Pittsburgh; Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County executive; Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey; Governor Tom Wolf; Naftali Bennett, Israeli Minister for Education and Minister for Diaspora Affairs; Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the United States; and Danny Danon, permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations. A video was streamed during the event featuring Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, who offered brief remarks and led the crowd in a recitation of the Kaddish.
In the week following the attack, Jewish and interfaith communal vigils and solidarity rallies were held across the world. In the United States, these were attended by hundreds or thousands of people, in many locations across the nation.[c] In Canada, they were held in Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax, Vancouver and other places. In Israel, approximately 500 Americans and Israelis lit candles on the night of October 28 at Zion Square in Jerusalem. In Europe, Jewish communal vigils were held in London, Liverpool, Brighton, and Paris.
College students at more than one hundred campuses across the country held vigils in the days following the shootings in remembrance of the victims.
The American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federations of North America called for Jews and non-Jews to attend synagogue services on the Shabbat following the attack, under the hashtag #ShowUpForShabbat. NBC News reported thousands of people around the world attended services in local synagogues, community centers, and college campuses, including Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
On October 30, President Donald Trump flew to Pittsburgh on Air Force One, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. They first stopped at the synagogue, where they met with Tree of Life spiritual leader Jeffrey Myers and Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer. Trump lit candles for the victims in the vestibule and then went outside to place one small stone on each of the 11 Star-of-David markers of the memorial to those killed there, stones which Trump had brought from the grounds of the White House. Then the group went to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, where Trump spoke with wounded victims, their families, law enforcement officials, and medical staff.
Trump's visit was discouraged by some in the Pittsburgh community. Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto said Trump should not have come, as the wounds were raw and the community was just beginning to mourn and hold funerals. Peduto, with agreement from Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald, also urged Trump to consider "the wills of the families" of the deceased. Over 70,000 people signed an open letter authored by Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh stating Trump was not welcome until he "fully denounces white nationalism". Former Tree of Life president Lynette Lederman also opposed Trump's visit, saying she felt his words were "hypocritical" and that "We have people who stand by us who believe in values, not just Jewish values, but believe in values, and those are the not the values of this president, and I do not welcome him to Pittsburgh". Before Trump's visit, Tree of Life rabbi Jeffrey Myers said, "There is hate, and it isn't going away. It just seems to be getting worse. ... We've got to stop hate, and it can't just be to say we need to stop hate. We need to do, we need to act to tone down rhetoric," adding that he would welcome a visit from President Trump. Aaron Bisno, the rabbi of Rodef Shalom Congregation, said he did not think Trump's presence was good, and that for many people in the community Trump had become a "symbol of division". During Trump's visit to the synagogue, an estimated 2,000 protesters were cordoned off a few blocks away. Afterward, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said, "The President was very warm, very consoling."
Neo-Nazis and white supremacistsEdit
Among American neo-Nazis and white supremacists, figures such as Andrew Anglin, Matthew Heimbach, and Richard B. Spencer expressed fear that the backlash over the attack could derail their efforts to gain mainstream political acceptance.
4chan users on the /pol/ board viewed the attack as "accidentally redpilling" people and denied the attack, claiming it was a "false flag" done by Jews to gain sympathy. Some users praised the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and created the hastags #HeroRobertBowers to express support for the shooter on Gab which extended to some users on the site such as a poll that asked which was the best option for Jewish people in the West and at least 35% chose "Genocide" with one user replying "Mass graves. Period. What you tolerate is what will continue" and another poll "Do you support the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, Robert Bowers?" with almost 25% saying yes with posts such as "Robert Bowers literally did nothing wrong" and "As long as Jews support the indiscriminate genocide of my race, fuck yeah I do" and some images on Gab disseminated expressed similar sentiments.
Numerous fundraising efforts were launched to assist with medical bills and counseling for survivors of the shooting, burial of the victims, and repairs to the synagogue. As of November 1, a GoFundMe campaign initiated by an Iranian graduate student in Washington, D.C., had exceeded US$1 million in donations, and a new goal of US$1.2 million has also been surpassed. Muslim groups opened a LaunchGood crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the burial of the victims and survivors' medical bills, with the funds to be distributed by the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. As of November 1, that campaign had exceeded its goal of $150,000 with more than $225,000 in contributions. The campaign announced excess funds would be "spent on projects that help foster Muslim-Jewish collaboration, dialogue, and solidarity". The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh raised $3.65 million for victims by November 13; donations to that organization will be matched by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Foundation. Individual fundraising campaigns for shooting victims in the Dor Hadash and New Light congregations raised nearly $23,000 combined.
A $6.3 million fund was raised for the survivors of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the families of the 11 dead, and police officers.
- List of attacks on Jewish institutions in the United States
- History of antisemitism in the United States
- History of the Jews in Pittsburgh
- Lynching of Leo Frank
- Atlanta Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple bombing
- 2006 Seattle Jewish Federation shooting
- Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting
- Overland Park Jewish Community Center shooting
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting
- Murder of Blaze Bernstein
- Charleston church shooting
- Quebec City mosque shooting
- Jeffersontown Kroger shooting
- Christchurch mosque shootings
- Hebrew: עֵץ חַיִּים – אוֹר לְשִׂמְחָה
- Hebrew: דוֹר חָדָשׁ
- These included Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Buffalo, Charleston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, Knoxville, Los Angeles, Madison, Memphis, Middletown, New Haven, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, Rochester, Salt Lake City, Seattle, St. Louis, Washington, Wilkes-Barre and Woodbridge.
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First Trump came for the Charlottesville 4 but I kept supporting Trump because he is a better candidate than Hillary Clinton. Then Trump came for RAM but I kept supporting Trump because he is better than Hillary Clinton. Then Trump came for the Proud Boys but I kept supporting Trump because he is better than Hillary Clinton. Then Trump came for me and there was no one left to support
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