The man allegedly responsible for what the Anti-Defamation League has called the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history has been charged with dozens of federal and state crimes, including hate crimes.
Robert Bowers, 46, is accused of killing 11 people—eight men and three women—in a mass shooting Saturday morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. Several Shabbat services were underway at the time of the attack. Six others were injured, including four police officers.
According to the Associated Press, Bowers, who was injured in a shootout with responding officers, told a SWAT team member after surrendering that he wanted all Jews to die because they were committing “genocide” against his “people.”
He was charged with 11 state counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault, and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation, the AP reported. He also was charged with 29 federal criminal counts, including obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs and using a firearm to commit murder. Obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs is a hate crime.
Bowers, who in recent months posted and shared anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant attacks and conspiracy theories on social media—including hours before the mass shooting—was armed with an AR-15 rifle and three Glock .357 handguns when he walked into the synagogue and began firing. Most of his victims were either middle-aged or the elderly, the oldest being 97.
The Allegheny County chief medical officer released the names of those killed, whose ages ranged from 54-97.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said the shooting was the “darkest day in Pittsburgh’s history.”
Scott Brady, U.S. Attorney for the Western Pennsylvania District, added, “A place of worship is a sacred place, a place where a community comes together to celebrate what that they hold most dear, and this is our first freedom as a people…Today we stand together as a community, a community that rejects hatred and violence,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Peduto pointed out something that all mass shootings have in common: guns.
“I think the approach we need to be looking at is how we take the guns, which is the common denominator of every mass shooting in America, out of the hands of those looking to express hatred and murder,” the mayor said.
Peduto’s comments contrasted with remarks made on Saturday by President Donald Trump. Asked by a reporter at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland if he thought the country needed tougher gun laws, Trump dodged the question and blamed the synagogue for not having an armed guard. (The Tree of Life Synagogue normally keeps its doors locked during the week, but the doors were unlocked for Saturday services.)
“If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better…Maybe it could have been a much better situation,” Trump said.
On Saturday night, after the Jewish Sabbath ended, thousands of local residents gathered to hold a candlelight vigil, singing songs in both Hebrew and English. The vigil was organized by high school students. One of the former worshipers at the church where the vigil began—the Sixth Presbyterian Church—was the late Fred “Mister” Rogers, the Post-Gazette noted.
“We gather because we are heartbroken but also to show zero tolerance for anti-Semitic speech, anti-Semitic behavior and anti-Semitic violence,” Rev. Vincent Kolb said.