Robert Bowers, 46, was allegedly armed with one assault rifle and three handguns during his shooting spree inside the Tree of Life synagogue as innocents were worshipping, the FBI said.
The accused gunman who opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday arrived in court Monday in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, prosecutors noted they have begun the process to seek the death penalty in the anti-Semitic attack.
Authorities say Robert Bowers, 46, stormed into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the affluent Squirrel Hill neighborhood shouting hate for Jews and killing worshipers in a 20-minute attack. Police were notified of the shooting at 9:54 a.m. ET, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said.
Details of the shooting and the motive were still under investigation Monday.
Here’s what we know, and some of the questions that remain:
Suspect Robert Bowers made his brief court appearance in a wheelchair, having been released from a local hospital hours before the hearing. (He was wounded Saturday in a gunfight with police.) Bowers waived a reading of the charges he faces and was ordered back for a hearing Thursday.
U.S. Attorney Scott Brady is seeking a death penalty case against Bowers, he said. That requires approval of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but President Donald Trump already signaled support: “When people do this, they should get the death penalty,” Trump said.
Bowers is charged with 29 criminal counts, including 11 federal hate-crime charges. Another 11 counts of using a firearm to kill carry a maximum penalty of death.
Brady said after the hearing that the case would be presented to a federal grand jury within 30 days. Searches of Bowers’ vehicle apartment were being conducted, he said.
Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old long-haul trucker, was charged late Saturday with 29 federal counts, including hate crimes. He had posted anti-Semitic rants on social media, including Gab, a fringe website favored by white nationalists.
It appears Bowers authored a social media post before the shooting accusing the organization HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, of bringing “invaders in that kill our people.” It’s unclear who Bowers meant when saying “our people.” He also wrote about a number of conspiracy theories and his opposition to the migrant caravan.
The account also mentioned that Bowers didn’t vote for Trump, because he was too soft on those of Jewish faith.
Neighbors said “Rob” lived with his grandfather for a period of time and made small talk about flowers and weeds like anyone else.
It’s unclear why he targeted the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue.
Eleven lives were taken Saturday morning. Two other worshipers were injured and four officers also were injured. Among those killed: Middle-aged brothers, an elderly husband and wife and a grandmother nearing 100. Many of them had gathered for a naming ceremony, which marks the beginning of a baby’s journey in the Jewish faith.
Those killed were Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Feinberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal 54; husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.
The first victim burials, including brothers David and Cecil Rosenthal, were planned for Tuesday, loved ones said. Other families were waiting for the investigation to continue before they could quickly bury their loved ones, as required by Jewish tradition.
As Pittsburgh police entered the synagogue, they found victims already dead. They got wounded survivors to safety, even as they were still being fired upon, according to dispatches and police reports. Officials have not formally identified the four officers injured, but confirmed that two are city policemen and two are SWAT officers.
The four officers were treated at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the hospital system said. Two had been released, while two others remained — one in stable condition and another in intensive care.
President Trump will travel to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to “express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community,“ White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Monday.
Saturday, after hearing news of the shooting, he said an armed guard could have prevented the tragedy.
“If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better,” the president said. “Maybe it could have been a very much different situation.”
Trump continued with a political rally just hours after the incident incorrectly saying the New York Stock Exchange reopened the day after the 9/11 attacks.
The Squirrel Hill neighborhood where the shooting took place is known by residents as a safe community. Molly Bedo, who previously attended Tree of Life synagogue, described the worship center as as a “safe haven.”
As the nation mourns, there are many ways to support those affected by the killing. Donate directly to Tree of Life. Support the Jewish Federation’s “Our Victims of Terror Fund” to help survivors. Give to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which assists refugees of all faiths around the world.
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