An Iranian immigrant decided to send a message of unity following Saturday's horrific, anti-Semitic shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, setting up a GoFundMe for victims of the attack, and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars overnight.
Shay Khatiri says he woke up Saturday morning in the home of a Jewish friend who was devastated by news of the attack on Tree of Life Synagogue, which left eleven people dead and six wounded, including four police officers. Inspired by his cross-cultural friendship he decided to help.
"She told me what happened and she was just broken," Khatiri told CNN. "Seeing how upset she was, I wanted to donate to the congregation."
But instead of donating from his meager bank account, Kahtiri pledged to ask members of social media to come together in the wake of the attack and do something to enrich the lives of survivors and of victims' families, and to help the suffering congregation. He set up a GoFundMe with the hopes of raising $50,000. By Sunday evening, he'd raised nearly half a million.
"I thought to myself, I could donate $18 or $36 — something like that. But that wouldn't make a huge impact," he said. "If I did something like this, maybe it could go viral and have a huge impact," Khatiri said.
"An anti-Semite attacked and killed several attendees to a baby’s bris at a Pittsburgh synagogue. This fundraiser is meant to help the congregation with the physical damages to the building, as well as the survivors and the victims’ families. Respond to this hateful act with your act of love today," the GoFundMe page reads.
GoFundMe has certified Tree of Life Congregation as the recipient of Kahtiri's collected funds. After blowing through his initial goal, he's now raised the fundraising goal to a million dollars.
"Everyone talks about how divided we are. But in such a tragic moment, Americans are always powerful and indivisible in trauma," Kahtiri said in his interview with CNN. "Every time something happens, I am reminded of how great this country is."
Saturday's shooting was the single largest anti-Semitic attack in American history. The gunman, who had no previous connection to the synagogue, and was, reportedly, unknown to law enforcement, shouted that he intended to kill Jews as he opened fire on an early morning service. Later investigation revealed that the gunman had a history of posting anti-Semitic threats on a Twitter-like platform called "Gab."
Authorities have the synagogue gunman in custody. He was captured in a shootout with police that left him seriously wounded, but he is expected to recover and be stable enough for arraignment Monday. He faces both local charges — of murder, attempted murder, and hate crime — and 26 federal charges, including a variety of gun crimes and at least one civil rights violation.
Neighbors, friends, and members of the Tree of Life congregation held a vigil Sunday evening for the victims.