Hundreds of mourners had to be turned away Friday at the funeral for 97-year-old Rose Mallinger as family, friends and community members turned out to pay their last respects to the oldest victim of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and the last of the 11 to be laid to rest.
Despite gray, blustery weather, long lines formed early outside Rodef Shalom Temple where the services were held because the Tree of Life synagogue, the site of the shootings Saturday, has not reopened.
It was hardly surprising that Mallinger found herself at the synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill community on that fateful day when an armed man, spewing anti-Semitic epithets, opened fire.
Mallinger, who once served as school secretary at Tree of Life, was a fixture there for 60 years, regularly attending worship services with her family.
The synagogue was the “center of her very active life,” her family said in a statement. “Her involvement with the synagogue went beyond the Jewish religion. … It was her place to be social, to be active and to meet family and friends.”
“She retained her sharp wit, humor and intelligence until the very last day,” the family statement said. “She did everything she wanted to do in her life.”
Mallinger was one of six siblings, had three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“It’s surreal to be here because you never think of losing someone who is 97 years old to gun violence,” said Michele Organist, a friend of both Rose and her 61-year-old daughter, Andrea Wedner, who was injured in the shooting.
“I’ve known Rose a long time and it was always going to be that she was so vibrant and bright and sharp-witted that she would live past 100,” said Organist. “You knew something was going to take her eventually, but it wasn’t going to be gun violence.”
Elizabeth Murphy of Sewickley said Andrea Wedner was her dental hygienist. Murphy emerged from the visitation for Wedner’s mother, Rose, with lines of mascara running down her face.
“I moved to Pittsburgh 22 years ago from Boston thinking I came from a strong Jewish community and the Pittsburgh community has been amazingly tight,” she said. “I felt integrated in just a few years and I felt like I needed to be here with my people.”
It was not immediately clear if Wedner was unable to attend the services. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, without naming the patient, said a 61-year-old woman fitting her description remained in stable condition at the hospital.
UPMC said on Friday that the two most seriously injured victims had been moved out of the intensive care unit. Hospital officials say a 70-year-old man has been upgraded from critical to stable condition. A 40-year-old police officer remains in stable condition.
The officer was previously identified as Timothy Matson, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds. The wounded congregant is Daniel Leger, a nurse and hospital chaplain.
Six people, including four police officers, were injured in the shooting.
Asked if the Mallinger’s funeral, the last among the victims, would bring a sense of closure, Organist said, “I don’t think there is a sense of closure. I think (the grief) is only just beginning.”
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers says it will take “quite a while” for Tree of Life to reopen after the attack.
The congregation’s former leader, Rabbi Chuck Diamond, is organizing a public prayer vigil outside Tree of Life at 9:45 a.m. Saturday.
Robert Bowers, the 46-year-old suspect in the killings, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges — with murder, hate crimes, obstructing the practice of religion — that could result in a death sentence.
He said “Yes!” in a loud voice on Thursday when asked if he understood the charges.
Contributing: Colin Deppen for The Incline. The publication is a USA TODAY content partner. Its content is produced independently of the USA TODAY Network.
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