MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Minutes after news broke about a gunman opening fire inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill a week ago today, Alex Messmer's father called him from Austria. It wasn't long after that call that Messmer put his design skills to work, creating what would eventually become a viral message of hope and a patch that the Penguins have now adopted on their jerseys.
Once his father knew Messmer was OK, the conversation turned to how the media and the rest of the world would perceive what had happened. Somewhere within the correspondence, it hit Messmer that Pittsburgh would now be associated with violence and hate. It would now be, "Pittsburgh, where the synagogue shooting in 2018 happened."
"That's what bugged (his dad) just as much. He visited Pittsburgh last year and we went to a Penguins playoff game together. I said, 'OK, let’s stand up and say Pittsburgh is better than this,' " Messmer said. "This was just one individual. It’s not what the community represents and it certainly isn't what our teams stand for."
The Penguins immediately came to Messmer's mind.
"The Penguins, to me as an organization and as a team, they stand out from the other teams in regards to what they do in the community," he said. "I saw one logo that was based on the Steelers and I thought, yeah, that’s a good one. Why not create something for the Penguins community? As soon as there’s a cause, the Penguins and their fans are all over it."
The shooting, which claimed the lives of 11 people and wounded six others, began around 10 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 27. News spread quickly via social media, and positive thoughts were offered up by many. By noon, Messmer had created the initial design for his logo:
[caption id="attachment_715356" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Alex Messmer's raw logo design. — COURTESY OF ALEX MESSMER[/caption]
The concept was simple. Messmer took the Star of David and implemented the Penguins logo. Then, he added the phrase, "Stronger Than Hate," which had been adopted by the city.
Messmer shared the initial logo with a group of Penguins fans, and it blew up from there. A Facebook post reached almost 44,000 people by the following Monday. Later, he found out his logo had been shared on Twitter, too, and someone thanked the Penguins for their support during the tragedy. The idea of using the logo to create t-shirts that could be sold to help the victims was brought up. Messmer knew, though, that he couldn't use the Penguins logo to sell t-shirts, so he sent the organization an email with his idea.
"They had a better idea," Messmer said.
That was when the logo was adopted as the team's uniform patch. The Islanders used it on merchandise, too, when the teams played Thursday night in Brooklyn.
Either way, Messmer never thought something so simple would actually help make a difference in his community.
"Noooo. Not at all," he admitted. "That’s not the first logo that I’ve created. I’ve toyed around a lot with other logos. I frankly didn't think any of it would go viral. I have a Penguins fan group and just wanted to share it with them and give them some strength."
Messmer's wife, Alicea, had ties to the shooting, too. David and Cecil Rosenthal, who were killed during the tragedy, volunteered each Wednesday at Bel Air Health & Rehab in Lower Burrell, where Alicea worked.
The Penguins invited Messmer and Alicea, who he met in Pittsburgh after moving to the city from Austria, to a game. It was emotional, Messmer said, to see the community come together and wear something he created.
[caption id="attachment_715363" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Alex and Alicea with Lord Stanley. — COURTESY OF ALEX MESSMER[/caption]
The Penguins went through the process of making sure the logo was accepted by the Jewish community as well as the NHL. Jerseys with the patch on it will be auctioned off to help the victims and their families.
"Sidney Crosby wearing that logo, that really had me very emotional," he said. "All the positive outpour from people, shoulder-and-shoulder, that made me feel really grateful and a little proud to be part of it, to have a positive effect on the community. That makes me proud of the community."
[caption id="attachment_714141" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Sidney Crosby, wearing the patch inspired by Alex Messmer.— MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
Messmer has degrees in graphic design and communications and has worked around and in sports media at multiple outlets. He created the logo that we've used here at DKPittsburghSports.com since the day the site was launched, and he had his hand in most of the early graphic aspects of the site:
Design has been a passion of his for some time, but he's also passionate about Pittsburgh and its community.
Seeing the community hurt, he said, wasn't easy. An initial effort to help his immediate group of friends deal with the tragedy turned into something much bigger. That, he said, is the power of the message.
"It's all about the cause and the message of hope," he said. "It's not about the one who created it."
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