Nearly one year after Robert Bowers allegedly opened fire during religious ceremonies at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania, killing 11 people, he remains in a county prison awaiting trial on federal and commonwealth charges.
Robert Gregory Bowers, now 47, was arrested by Pittsburgh Police after police said he shot and killed 11 people, injuring others including three police officers, according to court documents filed in his case. After his arrest, he told Pittsburgh Police he “wanted all Jews to die” and said he believed Jewish people were “committing genocide to his people,” police wrote in the affidavit of probable cause filed in his case. Earlier this week, federal prosecutors rejected Bowers’ requests for a plea offer of life in prison, court documents indicated. Both federal and state prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in his case.
Both Pennsylvania and federal investigators allege Bowers killed 11 people who were worshiping at the synagogue in Squirrel Hill, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh with a large Jewish population, which includes a number of Jewish synagogues, temples and community centers. A 60 Minutes special will feature the Pittsburgh neighborhood nearly one year later and showcase its recovery efforts after the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history.
Here’s what you need to know:
Robert Bowers Is Held in a County Prison & Federal Prosecutors Rejected a Request for Life in Prison
Both federal and Pennsylvania prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Robert Gregory Bowers, who police allege intentionally sought out Jewish people to kill them during religious ceremonies. On October 15, 2019, prosecutors rejected Bowers’ request for life in prison in exchange for a guilty plea in his federal case, court documents said.
“While in custody and receiving medical treatment, Bowers made statements to SWAT Operator David Blahut that he wanted all Jews to die and also that they (Jews) were committing genocide to his people,” Pittsburgh Police Detectives Edward A. Fallert and James D. McGee wrote in the affidavit of probable cause filed in his case.
Bowers was moved from Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh to Butler County Prison, a neighboring county, shortly after his arrest. He remains in Butler County Prison, according to prison records.
He was moved to Butler County Prison October 30, 2018, because of an agreement between the small county prison and the U.S. Marshals Service. Butler County Prison Warden Joe DeMore told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he was not given details on the reasons for the transfer.
Bowers is from Baldwin, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. In the Pennsylvania case, Bowers is facing 11 counts of homicide, six counts of attempted homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation. The docket sheet filed in his case shows he has not yet been arraigned on those charges.
In his federal case, he is charged with 11 counts each of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, use and discharge of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence, use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, two counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon and resulting in bodily injury, eight counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, and resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer, and one count of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving use of a dangerous weapon and resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer. The 44-count indictment was returned October 31, 2018, according to an announcement from Scott Brady, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. An additional 19 counts were added to his case in February. He pleaded not guilty to his charges at his federal arraignment.
“According to the indictment, on Oct. 27, 2018, Bowers drove to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where members of the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light Jewish congregations gathered to engage in religious worship,” the announcement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “Bowers entered the building armed with multiple firearms, including Glock .357 handguns and a Colt AR-15 rifle. The indictment alleges that while inside the Tree of Life Synagogue, Bowers opened fire, killing and injuring members of the three congregations, as well as injuring multiple responding public safety officers. While inside the Tree of Life Synagogue, Bowers made statements indicating his desire to ‘kill Jews.'”
Robert Bowers Has Not Yet Been Arraigned on his Pennsylvania Charges, & County Officials had a Brief Battle with Federal Authorities Over Arraignment
The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office had a brief feud with federal authorities after asking that Bowers be arraigned on his state charges in Pittsburgh. District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. filed a writ of habeas corpus on October 29, 2018, asking that the U.S. Marshals Service hand over Bowers so that he could face the citizens of Pennsylvania. That request was denied, according to a statement from Zappala.
“Until this past weekend, the citizens of Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh had never before witnessed the level of depravity and hatred that was unleashed inside the Tree of Life Synagogue. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the people of our county have dealt with crimes based on racial or ethnic hatred, crimes that were successfully prosecuted by my office,” the statement said. “Ideally, as with these previous prosecutions, the residents of our county would be the ones to sit in judgement of the individual charged with these crimes and should be given the opportunity to determine guilt and subsequent punishment.”
He went on to say he believes the case is “clearly a capital case,” and conceded Bowers would first face his charges at the federal level. His state charges are at abeyance, the statement said.
“That said, what began as a cooperative effort of local and federal law enforcement evolved into an investigation that was adopted by the FBI and the Department of Justice,” the statement said. “While we are confident that we can move forward with our prosecution, as a practical matter, the circumstances indicate that it is prudent to allow this case to proceed at the federal level at this time.”
Robert Bowers Is Accused of Killing 11 Jewish People at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Which Announced Plans to Rebuild Near One Year Anniversary
Robert Bowers is accused by Pittsburgh Police and federal authorities of gunning down 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. At 9:54 a.m., multiple 911 calls poured in from the Tree of Life Synagogue for reports of a man who was carrying out a rampage during services. One year later, the synagogue announced plans to rebuild, according to a statement issued October 18, 2019.
“Callers inside the synagogue reported an active shooter inside the location firing gunshots and relayed that they were being attacked,” Pittsburgh Police Detectives Edward A. Fallert and James D. McGee wrote in the affidavit of probable cause filed in his case.
The first two officers to arrive on scene spotted a man, later identified as Bowers, with an assault-style rifle. They exchanged gunfire with Bowers. One officer was hit in the hand and the other suffered cuts on his face from shrapnel and broken glass, the affidavit said. Bowers retreated further into the building. Pittsburgh SWAT arrived and entered the building, finding 11 people already dead inside. They also found two injured people, who were carried out by SWAT medical officers and taken to a hospital. While they were looking for more victims, SWAT officers found Bowers on the third floor and engaged in a gun battle. Two officers were shot, and one of them was critically wounded. Bowers was also shot and injured, the affidavit said. All three officers survived.
Wendy Miller was visiting a friend near the synagogue in Squirrel Hill when shots rang out and the street was put on lockdown. Her friend, Carol Black, was huddled in a closet in the synagogue. Black survived the shooting, but her brother, Richard Gottfried, was shot and killed.
“I was just flabbergasted,” Miller told the Herald-Standard after the shooting. “You can’t imagine that situation until you are in it. I don’t think it has even set in. It’s just shock.”
The Tree of Life Synagogue was badly damaged in the mass shooting, and has not yet reopened. On October 18, 2019, rabbis announced they will rebuild the synagogue.
“We are a resilient community,” Sam Schachner, President of Tree of Life, said in a statement. “When something bad happens, we have three choices. We can either let it define us, let it destroy us, or we can let it strengthen us. We will not let this attack destroy us. We will not let this attack define us as a congregation.”
The new center will also include memorials to the 11 victims.
“Our future is not about being the synagogue that was attacked. It is about being the synagogue that survived, thrived and remembered who we are,” he said. “We will turn this tragedy into triumph, loss into life and love. We will be resilient, and we will be strong.”
11 People Were Killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting
Eleven people were killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. Here are their names:
Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh
Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland, City of Pittsburgh
Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough
Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill
His brother, David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill
Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg
Her husband, Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg
Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh
Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh
Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington, City of Pittsburgh