Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

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Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
PSX 20181027 164107.jpg
LocationTree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation,
5898 Wilkins Avenue,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Coordinates40°26′37″N 79°55′17″W / 40.44361°N 79.92139°W / 40.44361; -79.92139Coordinates: 40°26′37″N 79°55′17″W / 40.44361°N 79.92139°W / 40.44361; -79.92139
DateOctober 27, 2018 (2018-10-27)
9:54–11:08 a.m. (EDT)
TargetTree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation
Attack type
Mass shooting
Weapons
Deaths11
Non-fatal injuries
7 (including suspected perpetrator)
Suspected perpetrator
Robert Gregory Bowers
MotiveAntisemitism, belief in the white genocide conspiracy theory
Charges
  • 29 federal criminal counts
  • 36 state criminal counts

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was a mass shooting that occurred at 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.

The sole suspect, 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers,[4][5] was arrested and charged with 29 federal crimes and 36 state crimes.[4][6] Using the online social network Gab, Bowers posted anti-Semitic comments against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in which Tree of Life was a supporting participant.[7][8][9][10][11][12] 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."[13]

This was the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the United States.[14][15]

Background[edit]

Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation is a Conservative Jewish synagogue. The synagogue describes itself as a "traditional, progressive, and egalitarian congregation".[16] 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.[16][17] 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.[18][19][20]

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.[21] 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.[22][23][24] The synagogue's main sanctuary has a capacity of 1,250 people.[25]

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.[26]

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.[27][28][29][30][31]

The immediate rise in the months of August to October was connected to the 2018 US midterm elections,[32] with a similar rise having occurred during the 2016 US election,[27] with the midterms being a "rallying point" for far-right extremists to organize efforts to spread antisemitism among the populace online.[28] 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[30][29] in context of rising hate crimes against other groups including Muslims and African Americans as reported by the FBI,[30] a wave of vandalizations of hundreds of Jewish gravestones in Pennsylvania and Missouri,[28] and a multiplication by 2 of antisemitic incidents on university campuses.[31] In 2017, the widely publicized Charlottesville demonstrations by alt right nationalist, anti-globalist and white supremacist groups featured Nazi salutes[31] amid explicit and implicitly antisemitic rhetoric. Online, the reports found that 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 that these represented the "worst sample" of all the hate speech he had seen on Instagram.[27]

Incident[edit]

At 9:50 a.m. EDT (13:50 UTC), a gunman described as a "bearded heavy-set white male" entered the building and allegedly shouted "All Jews must die!" before opening fire and "shooting for about 20 minutes".[23][33] He was armed with a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle (cited by authorities as an "assault rifle"[2]) and three Glock .357 SIG semi-automatic pistols, all four of which he fired, according to authorities.[6][17][34][14] Approximately 75 people were inside the building[35] during regularly scheduled Shabbat morning services.[36] By 9:54 a.m., police began receiving calls from people barricaded in the building reporting the attack.[37][38] About 13 worshippers had gathered for the Shabbat service of the Tree of Life congregation in an upstairs chapel; the rabbi 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.[35][39] The New Light congregation, meeting in the basement, had a smaller than usual turnount; three of its members were shot and killed.[35] Dor Hadash lost one member, a physician who had left the congregation at the sound of gunshots to see if anyone had been hurt.[35]

At 9:59 a.m., police arrived at the synagogue.[38][40] 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.[35][41]

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.[38] In the exchange of gunfire two SWAT members were also wounded, one critically.[41]

At 11:08 a.m., the gunman crawled out of the room in which he was hiding and surrendered.[42] 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.[43]

Victims[edit]

Memorials for victims outside the Tree of Life synagogue

Eleven people were killed,[44][45][46] including three on the ground level and four in the synagogue's basement.[47] Among the dead were two brothers (the Rosenthals) and a married couple (the Simons).[33][48] At least six others were injured, including four police officers.[37] Most of the victims were taken to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital and UPMC Mercy, while the suspected shooter was taken to Allegheny General Hospital, where three Jews were among those who treated him.[49] Those killed were:

  • Joyce Fienberg, 75
  • Rich 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.[35]

Suspect[edit]

Robert Gregory Bowers (born September 4, 1972),[4][5][50] a 46-year-old resident of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, was arrested as the suspected shooter.[51][52][53][54] Bowers' parents divorced when he was about one year old.[55] His father reportedly committed suicide at the age of 27,[56] when Bowers was about 6 years old.[56][55][57] 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.[55] Upon returning to Pennsylvania, Robert and his mother lived with his mother's parents in Whitehall. His grandparents took responsibility for raising him, as his mother suffered from health problems.[55]

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.[58][59]

Neighbors described Bowers as "a ghost" and said that he rarely interacted with others.[51]

According to accounts of Bowers' coworkers of 20 years ago, and analysis of 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."[60]

He was reported to have been heavily involved in websites such as Gab and had promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online through social media.[61]

Gab has been described as "extremist friendly"[62] for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the alt-right.[62] 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." 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 had published posts supporting the white genocide theory. Bowers also stated supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory were "deluded" and being tricked.[63][64][65] He also re-posted content by other anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, and Holocaust-denying users,[66][67][68] and he criticized President Donald Trump for being a "globalist, not a nationalist"[69] and for supposedly being controlled and surrounded by Jews.[70] In another post, he wrote, “There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation.”[54] Other posts attacked African Americans with racial slurs and images related to lynching, and attacked women who have relationships with black men.[71] He also used his online accounts to post conspiracy theories regarding investor and philanthropist George Soros.[72]

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".[67] In the post, he identified the .357 SIG handguns as Glock 31, Glock 32, and Glock 33.[66]

In the weeks before the shooting, Bowers made anti-Semitic posts directed at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)-sponsored National Refugee Shabbat[7] of October 19–20, in which Tree of Life participated.[8][9][10][11] He claimed that Jews were aiding members of Central American caravans moving towards the United States border and to have referred to members of those caravans as "invaders".[12] 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."[13][73][54] 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".[74]

After the shooting, Gab suspended Bowers' profile and pledged to cooperate with the criminal investigation.[63][68] Shortly after the attack, PayPal, Stripe, Joyent, and Medium pulled 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.[75]

Criminal charges and proceedings[edit]

Bowers was charged by the US Department of Justice with 29 federal crimes.[4][6][76]

The federal charges include eleven counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, eleven 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.[33][76][77][78]

The crimes of violence are based upon the federal civil rights laws prohibiting hate crimes.[78]

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.[4][6]

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.[79] Bowers was indicted by the federal grand jury on October 31. The charges carry a maximum penalty of death or 535 years in federal prison.[80] On November 1, Bowers entered a plea of not guilty, "as is typical at this stage of the proceedings" his public defender said.[81]

Reactions[edit]

United States[edit]

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf makes a statement about the shooting. Mayor of Pittsburgh Bill Peduto stands listening, seventh from right (striped tie).

President Donald Trump, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, his running mate Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, and Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O'Connor released statements about the incident through Twitter.[82] Trump called the shooting a wicked, anti-Semitic act of "pure evil."[82] 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".[83][84][85] He also suggested that cases such as this call for the death penalty.[85]

Cecilia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union said that the attack, along with other recent unrest, was inspired by elements of Trump's rhetoric.[86] Vice President Mike Pence denied any such connection in an NBC News interview that night.[87][88] 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".[89]

From October 27 to 31, all American flags on public and military grounds were flown at half-staff in memory of the victims.[90]

International[edit]

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the "horrifying anti-Semitic brutality" adding that "the whole of Israel grieves with the families of the dead."[91] 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,[92] and has 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.'"[93][94][95] Israel's cabinet stood for a moment's silence on October 28 to honor the victims of a synagogue shooting.[96]

Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau expressed support for the victims saying that "any murder of any Jew in any part of the world for being Jewish is unforgivable".[97] He described the location as "a place with a profound Jewish flavor". Many news reports asserted that Lau refused to refer to the Conservative congregation as a "synagogue" since it is non-Orthodox, but in the interview in question, Lau asked rhetorically, "Why does it matter in what synagogue or what liturgy they were praying?!" (emphasis in the original).[98] However, prominent non-Orthodox Israeli religious leaders and scholars rejected Lau's statement.[99][100][101]

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.[102][103] An image of the Israeli flag next to the American flag was projected onto Jerusalem's Western Wall.[104]

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".[105]

Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif offered his thoughts and prayers to the victims of the shooting and stated that "Extremism and terrorism know no race or religion, and must be condemned in all cases".[106] Hamas also offered condolences and condemned the attack.[107]

Local[edit]

Carnegie Mellon University lowered the American flag to half-staff to mourn the victims.
People gathered again at the intersection of Forbes and Murray Avenues in front of the Sixth Presbyterian Church on October 30. On the same day, President Donald Trump visited Pittsburgh in response to the shooting incident.[108]

Immediately after the shooting, the campus of Carnegie Mellon University was placed on lockdown and all university-sponsored activities were cancelled for the day.[24] At the same time residents were advised by police to remain in their homes and stay off the streets.[47]

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 that "most of the volunteers appeared to be Orthodox, but they felt strong solidarity with the liberal communities that were directly affected by the shooting."[109]

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.[110]

Media and organizations[edit]

Many local businesses on Murray Avenue put up posters to voice for the victims.

The New York Times published an op-ed by Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, that urged readers to fight against antisemitism and hate.[111]

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.[112]

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".[113] The Eiffel Tower also darkened its lights in tribute to the victims of the shooting.[114] In the wake of the shooting on October 27, the University of Pittsburgh darkened its traditional Victory Lights atop of the Cathedral of Learning,[115] 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.[116]

Sports teams that observed a moment of silence for the shooting victims included the Pittsburgh Steelers at their home game against the Cleveland Browns,[117] the New Orleans Saints at the Minnesota Vikings,[118] the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Vancouver Canucks,[119] the Winnipeg Jets at the Toronto Maple Leafs,[120] the Philadelphia Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars playing in London,[121] and the Pittsburgh Panthers hosting Duke at Heinz Field.[122] A moment of silence was also observed before Game 4 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium on the night of October 27.[122]

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.[123] 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.[124]

Vigils and rallies[edit]

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.[125] Two additional vigils were also held in the neighborhood.[6]

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.[126] 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.[127] 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,[128] who offered brief remarks and led the crowd in a recitation of the Kaddish.[129][130]

In the week following the attack, Jewish and interfaith communal vigils and solidarity rallies were held across the world.[131][132] In the United States, these were attended by hundreds or thousands of people,[133] in locations including 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.[132][134][135][136][137][138][139][140] 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.[132] In Europe, Jewish communal vigils were held in London, Liverpool, Brighton, and Paris.[141][142]

College students at more than one hundred campuses across the country held vigils in the days following the shootings in remembrance of the victims.[143]

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 that thousands of people around the world attended services in local synagogues, community centers, and college campuses, including Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.[144]

Presidential visit[edit]

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.[108]

Trump's visit was discouraged by some in the Pittsburgh community. Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto said that Trump should not have come, as the wounds were raw and the community was just beginning to mourn and hold funerals.[145] Peduto, with agreement from Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald, also urged Trump to consider "the wills of the families" of the deceased.[146] Over 70,000 people signed an open letter stating that Trump was not welcome until he "fully denounces white nationalism".[147] Former Tree of Life president Lynette Lederman also opposed Trump's visit, saying that 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".[148][149][150] 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.[148] Aaron Bisno, the rabbi of Rodef Shalom Congregation, stated that he did not think Trump's presence was good, saying that for many people in the community Trump had become a "symbol of division".[151] During Trump's visit to the synagogue, an estimated 2,000 protesters were cordoned off a few blocks away.[152] Afterward, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said, "The President was very warm, very consoling."[153]

Fundraising[edit]

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.[154] As of November 1, a GoFundMe campaign initiated by an Iranian graduate student in Washington, D.C., had exceeded US$1 million in donations,[155] 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.[156][157] As of November 1, that campaign had exceeded its goal of $150,000 with more than $225,000 in contributions.[155] The campaign announced that excess funds would be "spent on projects that help foster Muslim-Jewish collaboration, dialogue, and solidarity".[158] The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh raised $3.65 million for victims by November 13;[159] donations to that organization will be matched by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Foundation.[154][155]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hebrew: עֵץ חַיִּים – אוֹר לְשִׂמְחָה[3]
  2. ^ Hebrew: דוֹר חָדָשׁ

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b Robertson, Campbell; Mele, Christopher; Tsvrernise, Sabrina (October 27, 2018). "11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts". The New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2018. - NOTE: please see extensive discussion about "assault rifles" at => Talk:Pittsburgh synagogue shooting#"AR-15 rifle" considered an "Assault Weapon" - or Not?
  3. ^ "Synagogue Life". Tree of Life * Or l'Simcha Congregation. Retrieved October 27, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Magisterial District Judge 05-0-03 - DOCKET - Docket Number: MJ-05003-CR-0009000-2018 - Criminal Docket - Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robert Gregory Bowers". Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. October 27, 2018. Archived from the original on October 28, 2018. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
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  32. ^ Cite error: The named reference ADLReport was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
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