Tree of Life massacre

Tree of Life gunman Robert Bowers wanted ‘all Jews to die,’ authorities said

29 federal and 36 state charges have been filed against the Pittsburgh-area man.

11 people were fatally shot at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

11 people were fatally shot at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

LEXI BELCULFINE / THE INCLINE
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Updated 1:40 p.m. This is a breaking story and will continue to be updated.

Robert Bowers told police “he wanted all Jews to die” and that “(Jews) were committing genocide to his people” after he surrendered and was taken into custody Saturday, authorities said.

Bowers, 46, of Baldwin faces 29 federal and 36 state charges after authorities said he carried a Colt AR-15 model SPI and three Glock .357 handguns into the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill and opened fire.

Three women and eight men were killed.

Authorities didn’t yet know why he picked this synagogue, Pittsburgh Bureau FBI Special Agent in Charge Bob Jones said on Sunday.

Six others — two worshippers, two police officers, and two SWAT members — were also injured.

Bowers, who was shot multiple times, remained at Allegheny County Hospital on Sunday morning and is in federal custody, authorities said. He will appear before a judge at 1:30 Monday afternoon on the federal charges.

Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the dual cases will rely on a continuing conversation between Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott Brady, though federal charges take priority. Shapiro’s office is acting in a supportive role. He called the federal hate crime charges very serious and appropriate.

The crime scene is still under investigation and will likely be for a week, Jones said, adding that FBI evidence teams from Baltimore, Newark and Washington, D.C. are here assisting. Bowers’ home and car were searched, but authorities wouldn’t comment on what was found there.

“We continue to conduct interviews, scrub social media and look at videos to determine how and why he committed this act,” Jones said.


Related coverage: The names of those killed in the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh


Federal charges

Each of 22 charges filed against Bowers —  11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and 11 more counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence — are punishable by death, Brady told members of the media gathered at Allegheny County Emergency Operations in Point Breeze on Sunday morning.

“Know we we will spare no effort or resource in ensuring sure the defendant is held fully accountable for his unspeakable and hateful crimes,” Brady said.

According to a criminal complaint filed Saturday by Brian Collins, a special agent with the FBI, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania: “During the course of his deadly assault on people at the Synagogue, and simultaneously with his gunfight with responding officers, Bowers made statements evincing an animus towards people of the Jewish faith.”

Bowers told one law enforcement officer, “They’re committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews.”

He “repeated comments regarding genocide, his desire to kill Jewish people, and that Jewish people needed to die,” the complaint stated.

At 8:05 p.m. Saturday, federal prosecutors filed 29 charges against Bowers:

  • 11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death
  • 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence
  • 4 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer
  • 3 counts of use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence

Related coverage: What makes a crime a hate crime?


Read the affidavit filed by the FBI here:

State charges

At 9:54 a.m. Saturday, an active shooter was reported in the synagogue, which did not have security on hand, authorities said.

“At that time, multiple people were in attendance of the Tree of Life Synagogue and engaged in religious service and worship,” Pittsburgh Detectives Edward A. Fallert and James D. McGee wrote in a criminal complaint released early Sunday morning.

911 callers inside the synagogue told dispatchers “they were being attacked,” per the complaint.

By 9:55 a.m. Saturday, authorities were on their way there.

When two Pittsburgh officers encountered Bowers, who had an assault-style rifle, they exchanged gunfire. One of the officers was shot in the hand, while the other was cut in the face by broken glass and shrapnel, per the affidavit.

Bowers retreated further into the building and moved to the third floor, where a Pittsburgh SWAT team encountered him as they were searching for additional victims.

Bowers shot at them. Officers fired back.

Bowers shot two SWAT members multiple times, injuring one of the men critically, per the Pittsburgh affidavit. The gunman was also injured during the encounter and was taken into custody.

If Bowers would have made it outside there is a “strong possibility” that the violence would have continued, Jones said. It is believed Bowers acted alone, he said.

Authorities said Sunday it was unclear how many people were in the building at the time of the shooting. Three separate congregations meet there.

Bowers was charged by Pittsburgh Police on Saturday with:

  • 11 counts of criminal homicide
  • 6 counts of criminal attempt
  • 6 counts of aggravated assault
  • 13 counts of ethnic intimidation, a first-degree felony, “based on what Bowers described himself as his hatred for ‘Jews,’” per the affidavit.

Read the affidavit filed by Pittsburgh Police here: