The suspect in a shooting that took the lives of eleven worshippers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, last weekend has been indicted. Forty-six-year-old Robert Bowers of Baldwin faces forty-four federal charges, many of which are punishable by death.
Included in the charges are eleven counts of obstruction of the free exercise of religious belief resulting in death and use of a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence. Bowers also faces two counts of obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, resulting in bodily injury, and eight counts of obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer.
In all, thirty-two of the forty-four charges Bowers faces carry the death penalty with them.
He also faces two counts of the use of a firearm during a crime of violence, nine counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence and one count of obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs involving use of a dangerous weapons and resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer.
Convictions on the non-death penalty charges are each punishable by 20 years or life in prison.
Bowers also faces millions of dollars in potential fines and restitution.
“Our investigation of these hate crimes continues. Rest assured, we have a team of prosecutors working hard to ensure that justice is done,” said US Attorney Scott Brady earlier this week.
Bowers burst into the Tree of Life synagogue in the Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh last Saturday morning as Shabbat services were beginning and opened fire on unsuspecting attendees.
Bowers killed eleven worshippers, many of them elderly. The Allegheny County medical examiner said all eleven victims died from rifle wounds, with several suffering head wounds.
In addition to the eleven fatalities, there were six others who suffered gunshot wounds, including four law enforcement officers. Of which, Bowers shot three.
For weeks prior to the shooting Bowers had been posting hate-filled messages online. He complained that President Donald Trump was surrounded by too many Jewish people and blamed Jews for helping migrant caravans in Central America reach the United States.
“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” he wrote in a message posted just minutes before entering the synagogue. “Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
“They’re committing genocide to my people,” authorities say Bowers told police during the shootout. “I just want to kill Jews.”
SWAT officers encountered Bowers on the third floor of the synagogue. They exchanged gunfire with him until he surrendered.
The massacre, the deadliest attack on Jewish individuals in U.S. history has shocked the nation.
“My holy place has been defiled,” Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life synagogue said during Sunday’s service. “Words of hate are unwelcome in Pittsburgh. It starts with everyone in this room, and I want to address for a moment some of our political leaders who are here. Ladies and gentlemen, it has to start with you as our leaders.”
“My words are not intended as political fodder, I address all equally. Stop the words of hate,” Myers said to a standing ovation.
“We will drive anti-Semitism and the hate of any people back to the basement, on their computer, and away from the open discussions and dialogues around this city, around this state and around this country,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
President Trump paid a solemn visit to Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon. He, along with First Lady Melania Trump, laid stones on top of eleven Star of David markers planted in the ground outside of the synagogue.
The President also spent more than an hour visiting with the law enforcement officials wounded during the attack, as well as the medical staff of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center where the victims were being treated.
In the wake of the incident there have been calls for increased security at Jewish places of worship in the U.S. Adam Hertzman, director of marketing for the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, said it was too early to say which permanent steps, if any, will be taken because of the tragedy.
“Our focus at the moment is on mourning those who have passed and trying to comfort the people who are bereaved,” he said.
Photo by Allegheny County Police Department