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A lone suspect, identified as 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers, was shot multiple times by police and arrested at the scene. Bowers had earlier posted anti-Semitic comments against HIAS (formerly, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) on the online alt-tech social network Gab.Dor Hadash had participated in HIAS's National Refugee Shabbat the previous week. Referring to Central American migrant caravans and immigrants, Bowers posted on Gab that "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in." He has been charged with 63 federal crimes, some of which are capital crimes. He has pleaded not guilty. He separately faces 36 charges in Pennsylvania state court.
Originally founded as an Orthodox Jewish congregation in 1864 in downtown Pittsburgh, by an early group of Jewish immigrants, Tree of Life merged in 2010 with the recently founded Congregation Or L'Simcha. The modern synagogue building, located at the intersection of Wilkins and Shady avenues in Squirrel Hill, was built in 1953. The congregation also rents space to Dor Hadash,[b] a Reconstructionist congregation; and New Light, another Conservative congregation. The synagogue's main sanctuary has a capacity of 1,250 people.
The immediate rise in the months of August to October 2018 was attributed to rising tensions associated with advertising for the 2018 US midterm elections. A similar rise in online attacks had occurred during the 2016 US election, with the midterms being a "rallying point" for far-right extremists to organize efforts to spread antisemitism online among the populace. In 2017 there was a 57% rise in antisemitic incidents in the United States, in context of rising hate crimes against other groups, including Muslims and African Americans, as reported by the FBI. For instance, hundreds of Jewish gravestones were vandalized in Pennsylvania and Missouri, and antisemitic incidents on university campuses doubled in number.
At 9:45 AM three religious services were underway in the Tree of Life synagogue, which housed three distinct congregations. Tree of Life and New Light had both begun independent Shabbat morning service in the Pervin Chapel and basement, respectively. The Dor Hadash congregants were gathered near the front of the building, prior to their 10:00 a.m. Torah study session.
The first two persons shot were two brothers, Cecil and David Rosenthal, at the main entrance, after which the shooter headed downstairs to New Light. Some hearing the shots did not initially recognize them for what they were: Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, located upstairs, thought a coat rack had fallen and clattered.
By 9:54 AM, police began receiving multiple calls from people barricaded in the building and reporting the attack.
At 9:55 AM, Melvin Wax, the leader of New Light's services, hid in a pitch-black closet in the basement. He opened the door of the closet, and the shooter immediately shot him. The shooter did not notice the other three congregants who remained in the closet. Two other members of New Light (Gottfried and Stein) were fatally shot and killed in the basement kitchen. The shooter also killed Jerry Rabinowitz of Dor Hadash, a physician who had gone toward the sound of gunshots to see if anyone had been hurt.
At 9:57 AM, the shooter left the basement and headed upstairs to the larger Tree of Life service. About 13 worshippers had gathered for the Shabbat service in an upstairs chapel. Myers helped four of them evacuate the chapel through a side door, but eight of the worshippers remained behind. The shooter killed seven and wounded one.
Police sources said the shooter shouted at some point during the attack, "All Jews must die!"
At 9:59 AM, police arrived at the synagogue. The shooter fired on police from the entryway, while apparently departing, and police returned fire, forcing him to retreat into the building.
A half hour later, tactical teams entered the building and the gunman also fired upon them. When officers wounded him in return fire, he retreated to the third floor and hid in a room. He had wounded two officers and two SWAT members, one of them critically.
At 11:08 AM, the gunman crawled out of the room and surrendered, having been shot multiple times. As he received medical care in police custody, he allegedly told a SWAT officer that he wanted all Jews to die, and that Jews were committing genocide against his people; this material was included in a criminal complaint filed in Allegheny County.
Memorials to victims outside the Tree of Life synagogue
Four Pittsburgh police officers were injured, three by ricocheted gunfire and another by glass fragments.
Robert Gregory Bowers (born September 4, 1972), a resident of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, was arrested as the shooter. Bowers' parents divorced when he was about one year old. His father, Randall Bowers, died by suicide in October 1979 at the age of 26 while he was awaiting trial on a rape charge, when Bowers was 7 years old. Bowers' mother married a Florida man when Bowers was a toddler, and he lived with them in Florida until they separated a year after their marriage.
Upon their return to Pennsylvania, Robert and his mother lived with his mother's parents in Whitehall. His maternal grandparents took responsibility for raising him, because his mother suffered from health problems. Bowers attended Baldwin High School in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District from August 1986 to November 1989. He dropped out of high school before graduation and worked as a trucker. Neighbors described Bowers as "a ghost" and they also said that he rarely interacted with others.
According to accounts which were given by Bowers' coworkers from 20 years ago, and analysis of his recent social media posts, his conservatism became radicalized as white nationalism; at one point Bowers was fascinated by the right-wing radio host Jim Quinn. At a later time he became a follower of "aggressive online provocateurs of the right wing's fringe." He was deeply involved in posting comments on social media websites such as Gab and he also promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories on them.
A month before the attack, Bowers posted photos of results of his target practice. He also posted a photo of his three handguns, calling them his "glock family". In the post, he identified the .357 SIG handguns as Glock 31, Glock 32, and Glock 33.
Bowers coordinated with Brad Griffin (aka Hunter Wallace) of Occidental Dissent, an alt-right associated blogger and member of League of the South on doxxing an unidentified left-wing blogger. Bowers wrote "that address is not the most current for him. I can get you the most recent outside of gab". League of the South was one of the organizations that participated in the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville.
In the weeks before the shooting, Bowers made anti-Semitic posts directed at the HIAS-sponsored National Refugee Shabbat of October 19-20, in which Dor Hadash participated. He claimed Jews were aiding members of Central American caravans moving toward the United States border and referred to those migrants as "invaders". Shortly before the attack, he posted on Gab that "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in." According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "the mention of 'optics' references a disagreement that has raged within the white nationalist movement since the Unite the Right rally in 2017 about how best to get their message across to the general public".
After the shooting, Gab suspended Bowers' profile and pledged to cooperate with the criminal investigation. Shortly after the attack, PayPal, Stripe, Joyent, and Medium pulled their support for Gab, and GoDaddy, which the Gab domains were registered under, required Gab to relocate their domain name hosting to a different service, effectively shutting Gab down in the short term.
On October 31, Bowers was indicted on 44 counts by a federal grand jury. The charges carry a maximum penalty of death or 535 years in federal prison. The counts included hate crimes, 11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence, four counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer, and three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence. On November 1, Bowers entered a plea of not guilty.
On January 29, 2019, the grand jury indicted Bowers on an additional 19 counts, 13 of which were for hate crimes. On February 11, 2019, Bowers was arraigned in federal court. Bowers is represented by his court-appointed defense attorney, Judy Clarke. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
As of October 2019 a trial date had not yet been set, pending the resolution of various pretrial motions.
Cecilia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union said the attack, along with other recent unrest, was inspired by elements of Trump's rhetoric. Vice President Mike Pence denied any such connection in an NBC News interview that night. Over 2,000 people, including many from the local Jewish community, protested against Trump's visit to the synagogue site, chanting "words have meaning", and carrying signs with such slogans as "We build bridges not walls".
From October 27 to 31, all US flags on public and military grounds were flown at half-staff in memory of the victims.
In July 2021, the state legislature ended a program that provided grants to organizations considered to be potential terrorist targets. Established in 2019, the program distributed just ten million dollars.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris darkened its lights in tribute to the victims of the shooting.
Israel's Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu condemned the "horrifying anti-Semitic brutality", adding "the whole of Israel grieves with the families of the dead." Israel's education and diaspora affairs minister, Naftali Bennett, immediately left for Pittsburgh to visit the synagogue, meet with community members, and participate in the funerals of the victims, and directed the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs "to assess and prepare to assist the Pittsburgh Jewish community, 'including the need for emergency and resilience teams that immediately left Israel for psychological assistance and community rehabilitation.'"Israel's cabinet stood for a moment's silence on October 28 to honor the victims.
Chief Rabbi of IsraelDavid Lau said "any murder of any Jew in any part of the world for being Jewish is unforgivable". He described the location as "a place with a profound Jewish flavor". Many news reports said he refused to refer to the Conservative congregation as a "synagogue" since it is non-Orthodox. Prominent non-Orthodox Israeli religious leaders and scholars rejected his statement.
Tel Aviv Municipality lit the city hall building with the colors of the American flag in solidarity with the victims of the Pittsburgh attack. An image of the Israeli flag next to the American flag was projected onto Jerusalem's Western Wall.
Pope Francis denounced the "inhuman act of violence" in his Sunday prayers in St. Peter's Square on October 28, and led prayers for the dead and wounded, as well as their families. He asked God "to help us to extinguish the flames of hatred that develop in our societies".
Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif offered his thoughts and prayers to the victims of the shooting, and said "Extremism and terrorism know no race or religion, and must be condemned in all cases".
Hamas offered condolences and condemned the attack.
Jan Kickert, AustrianPermanent Representative to the United Nations, said: "The attack ... was an attack on all of us, on what we stand for - religious liberty, human rights. We are committed to the safety and security of Jews wherever they are. I say this with growing up and living with the shame that my forefathers were among the worst perpetrators in Nazi times."
Carnegie Mellon University lowered the American flag to half-staff to mourn the victims.
People gathered again at the intersection of Forbes and Murray Avenues in front of the Sixth Presbyterian Church on October 30. On the same day, Trump visited Pittsburgh in response to the shooting incident.
Immediately after the shooting, the campus of Carnegie Mellon University was placed on lockdown and all university-sponsored activities were cancelled for the day. At the same time residents were advised by police to remain in their homes and stay off the streets.
An unusually large proportion of the Pittsburgh Jewish community from all denominations participated in local Jewish rituals related to death and mourning. Jewish tradition requires a person to guard a corpse until it is buried. Shomrim (volunteer guards) took one-hour shifts at the Pittsburgh morgue until the bodies were moved to funeral homes. The Atlantic reported that "most of the volunteers appeared to be Orthodox, but they felt strong solidarity with the liberal communities that were directly affected by the shooting."
Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers attended the joint funeral service for the Rosenthal brothers on Tuesday, October 30, when NFL teams are traditionally off. The brothers, who were intellectually disabled, had a sister who is a former employee of the team.
Media and organizations
Many local businesses on Murray Avenue put up posters in support of the victims.
On October 28, the Empire State Building darkened its lights in honor of the victims. According to the building's Twitter account, the top of the spire was left aglow with "an orange halo shining a light on gun violence awareness". In the wake of the shooting, the University of Pittsburgh darkened its traditional Victory Lights atop of the Cathedral of Learning, and on November 2, the university altered the Victory Lights so the blue beam would shine for 11 seconds, one second for each fatality.
Pittsburgh locals crocheted or knit forms of the Star of David and hung them along Murray Avenue.
On the evening of the shooting, over 3,000 people gathered at the intersection of Murray and Forbes avenues in Squirrel Hill for an interfaith candlelight vigil; it was organized by students from nearby Taylor Allderdice High School. Two additional vigils were held in the neighborhood.
The day after the shooting, an interfaith vigil organized by the regional Jewish Federation was held at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, drawing an overflow crowd estimated at 2,500. Attended by numerous national and local dignitaries, the event featured several speakers, including the rabbis of the three congregations that occupied the synagogue building, Islamic and Christian clergy, and civic leaders. Among those in attendance were Bill Peduto, mayor of Pittsburgh; Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County executive; Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey; Governor Tom Wolf; Naftali Bennett, Israeli Minister for Education and Minister for Diaspora Affairs; Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the United States; and Danny Danon, permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations. A video was streamed during the event featuring Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, who offered brief remarks and led the crowd in a recitation of the Kaddish.
In the week following the attack, Jewish and interfaith communal vigils and solidarity rallies were held across the world. In the United States, these were attended by hundreds or thousands of people, in many cities across the nation.[c] In Canada, they were held in Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax, Vancouver and other places. In Israel, approximately 500 Americans and Israelis lit candles on the night of October 28 at Zion Square in Jerusalem. In Europe, Jewish communal vigils were held in London, Liverpool, Brighton, and Paris.
College students at more than one hundred campuses across the country held vigils in the days following the shootings in memory of the victims.
On October 30, Trump flew to Pittsburgh on Air Force One, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. They went to the synagogue, where they met with Tree of Life spiritual leader Jeffrey Myers and Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer. Trump lit candles for the victims inside and outside placed stones on each of the 11 Star-of-David markers of the memorial. The group went to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, where Trump spoke with wounded victims, their families, law enforcement officials, and medical staff.
Trump's visit was discouraged by some in the Pittsburgh community. Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto said Trump should not have come, as the wounds were raw and the community was just beginning to mourn and hold funerals. Peduto, with agreement from Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald, also urged Trump to consider "the wills of the families" of the deceased. More than 70,000 people had signed an open letter written by Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh saying that Trump was not welcome until he "fully denounces white nationalism". Former Tree of Life president Lynette Lederman opposed Trump's visit, saying she felt his words were "hypocritical" and that "We have people who stand by us who believe in values, not just Jewish values, but believe in values, and those are not the values of this president, and I do not welcome him to Pittsburgh".
Before Trump's visit, Tree of Life rabbi Jeffrey Myers said,
"There is hate, and it isn't going away. It just seems to be getting worse. ... We've got to stop hate, and it can't just be to say we need to stop hate. We need to do, we need to act to tone down rhetoric," adding that he would welcome a visit from Trump.
Aaron Bisno, the rabbi of Rodef Shalom Congregation, said he did not think Trump's presence was beneficial, saying that Trump had become a "symbol of division" for many. During Trump's visit to the synagogue, an estimated 2,000 protesters were cordoned off a few blocks away. Afterward, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said, "The President was very warm, very consoling."
4chan users on the /pol/ board viewed the attack as "accidentally redpilling" people and denied that it had occurred. It claimed the purported attack was a "false flag" committed by Jews to gain sympathy. Some users praised the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and created the hashtag #HeroRobertBowers to express support for the shooter on Gab. A multiple-choice poll was posted asking for the best option for Jewish people in the West: 35% of respondents chose "Genocide". In another poll, the question "Do you support the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, Robert Bowers?" was posted; nearly 25% of respondents said yes, and some added inflammatory remarks.
Fundraising to aid the synagogue and the survivors
Numerous fundraising efforts were launched in order to assist the survivors of the shooting, pay for the burial of the victims, and pay for the repairs to the synagogue. As of November 1, a GoFundMe campaign which was initiated by an Iranian graduate student in Washington, D.C., had exceeded US$1 million in donations, and a new goal of US$1.2 million has also been surpassed. Muslim groups opened a LaunchGood crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the burial of the victims and survivors' medical bills, with the funds to be distributed by the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. As of November 1, that campaign had exceeded its goal of $150,000 with more than $225,000 in contributions.
The organizers of the campaign announced that all excess funds would be "spent on projects that help foster Muslim-Jewish collaboration, dialogue, and solidarity". The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh raised $3.65 million for victims by November 13; donations to that organization were to be matched by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Foundation. Fundraising campaigns for shooting victims in the Dor Hadash and New Light congregations raised nearly $23,000 combined.
A $6.3 million fund was raised for the survivors of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the families of the 11 dead, and police officers.
^These included Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Buffalo, Charleston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, Knoxville, Los Angeles, Madison, Memphis, Middletown, New Haven, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, Rochester, Salt Lake City, Seattle, St. Louis, Washington, Wilkes-Barre and Woodbridge.
^"Deadly Shooting at Pittsburgh Synagogue". Anti-Defamation League. October 27, 2018. Archived from the original on January 19, 2019. Retrieved 2019. First Trump came for the Charlottesville 4 but I kept supporting Trump because he is a better candidate than Hillary Clinton. Then Trump came for RAM but I kept supporting Trump because he is better than Hillary Clinton. Then Trump came for the Proud Boys but I kept supporting Trump because he is better than Hillary Clinton. Then Trump came for me and there was no one left to support
^Ove, Torsten (October 25, 2020). "Accused Tree of Life shooter still seeks plea deal". Post-Gazette. The Justice Department wants the death penalty. Mr. Bowers' legal team, which includes a California anti-death penalty specialist known for representing high-profile clients, wants a plea deal. There is still no trial date and the case has thus far been marked by accusations from the government that the defense has been trying to drag out the case.