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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is in mourning after a deadly rampage at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.  Robert Bowers, 46, stormed the synagogue armed with an AR-15 and at least 3 handguns yelling “All Jews must die” as he opened fire on worshipers preparing for Shabbat services.  Eleven people were killed and seven were injured, the victims ranged from 54 to 97 years in age. Officers arrived on the scene as Bowers was on his way out of the building.  He fired on police from the entryway, shooting two officers and police returned fire.

Bowers retreated back into the building and SWAT officers arrived 30 minutes later.  Swat officers entered the building and were again fired upon by the gunman. Officers returned fire and wounded him, leading him to retreat to a room on the third floor of the synagogue.  Two SWAT members were wounded in the shootout, one critically.  Almost 40 minutes after the shootout with SWAT officers, an injured Bowers crawled out of the room and surrendered.

Bowers appeared in federal court in Pittsburgh on October 29th, to hear the charges against him.   He has been charged by the US Department of Justice with 29 federal crimes.  The federal charges include eleven counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, eleven 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.  The crimes of violence are based upon the federal civil rights laws prohibiting hate crimes.  Bowers was also charged with 36 state criminal counts, including 11 counts of criminal homicide, 6 counts of aggravated assault, 6 counts of attempted criminal homicide and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.  He pled not guilty and remains in the custody of the United States Marshals Service without bail pending further hearings.

Just before the shooting rampage, Robert Bowers wrote on a far-right social media site, ”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.” HIAS refers to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a humanitarian aid nonprofit group that has provided assistance to refugees for more than 130 years.  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, according to a criminal complaint filed in Allegheny County.

Bowers attended Baldwin High School from August 1986 to November 1989 before dropping out and worked as a trucker.  Neighbors described Bowers as “a ghost” and said that he rarely interacted with others.  Officials say he was reportedly heavily involved in promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online through social media.  He had published posts supporting the white genocide theory and also stated that supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory were “deluded” and being tricked.  Other posts attacked African Americans with racial slurs and images related to lynching, and attacked women who have relationships with black men.

In the weeks before the shooting, Bowers made anti-Semitic posts directed at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)-sponsored National Refugee Shabbat of October 19–20, in which Tree of Life participated.  He claimed that Jews were aiding members of Central American caravans moving towards the United States border and to have referred to members of those caravans as invaders.

 

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