Shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue

One month since the Tree of Life massacre, here’s what we know — and what we still don’t know

What’s fact, fiction, and yet to be determined about “the darkest day of Pittsburgh’s history”

Mourners visit Tree of Life on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018.

Mourners visit Tree of Life on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018.

Cara Owsley / USA TODAY Network

Updated 2:40 p.m.

A month has passed since gunfire exploded in the Tree of Life synagogue.

In a matter of minutes, 11 people were killed and six wounded; a federal hate crimes investigation was launched; a week of burials followed.

Thousands marched when President Donald Trump arrived to pay his respects. Federal charges and state criminal charges were filed against the accused gunman, Robert Bowers. Grief combined with a groundswell of charity as a sprawling and heart-rending story circled the world.

A month later and that story continues to move and unfold, along with acts of kindness, the fallout and the fear this act inspired. Here, we’re taking a look back at what happened on that October morning and what’s transpired since. We also look ahead as the criminal case against Bowers proceeds and as the city prepares for its first Hanukkah since the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

Here’s what we know a month later — and what remains unknown.

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

What we know: The shooting and aftermath

The morning of Oct. 27

At 9:54 a.m. Oct. 27, an active shooter was reported in the synagogue at 5898 Wilkins Ave. Members of three congregations were gathered inside the building for Sabbath services. According to authorities, Bowers, 46, of Baldwin Borough, entered the building armed with an AR-15 rifle and multiple handguns and began firing upon congregants.

Soon after, Bowers exited the building where he encountered two Pittsburgh police officers. One of the officers was shot in the hand, while the other was cut in the face by broken glass and shrapnel, per law enforcement. From there, 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. The gunman was also injured during the encounter and was taken into custody.

Though initial reports said the congregants were in the building for a baby-naming ceremony, that was not true. There was, however, a baby-naming ceremony at the same time at Temple Sinai, less than a mile away, reported the Post-Gazette.

11 victims died.

Eleven people were killed in the shooting: Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland; Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township; Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood; Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill; David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill; Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg; Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg; Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill; Melvin Wax, 87, of Squirrel Hill; and Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington.

Mallinger, the oldest victim, was not a Holocaust survivor, contrary to social media reports and early reports, per the York Daily Record.  She was in her late teens and early 20s during World War II.

The injured included four police officers and two congregants.

Six were injured, including 61-year-old Andrea Wedner, a dental hygienist whose mother, Rose Mallinger, was killed in the attack, and 70-year-old Daniel Leger, a nurse and UPMC chaplain. Wedner was released from the hospital Nov. 7. Leger was moved to an inpatient rehabilitation facility as of Nov. 16 and released from the hospital as of this afternoon UPMC said.

An injured 40-year-old male police officer, identified in media reports as Timothy Matson, remained in stable condition as of this afternoon. Of the four officers injured in the shooting, Matson is the only one who remains hospitalized.

The congregations are now in temporary spaces.

The three congregations that met at Tree of Life have moved to temporary meeting locations at local synagogues. New Light Congregation is meeting at Beth Shalom, while Tree of Life and Dor Hadash congregations are meeting at Rodef Shalom.

What we don’t know: The shooting and aftermath

What’s the rebuilding process?

The FBI has returned control of the Tree of Life building to synagogue leaders. Those leaders say they plan to rebuild, while it’s unclear when that process might be complete or if the congregations that use the building will return. Tree of Life, or L’Simcha, Vice President Alan Hausman told TribLive he thinks they should. “We don’t think it’s in the best interest of the community or our congregation to pick up and move,” Hausman said. “Then we admit defeat, and we won’t allow one person to defeat us.” Officials told TribLive it could be more than a year before the building is usable again.

The flowers outside Tree of Life on Wed. Nov. 14

The flowers outside Tree of Life on Wed. Nov. 14

mj slaby / the incline

What we know: Memorials and donations

The outdoor community-built memorial will be preserved.

In the hours and days after the shooting, a memorial outside of Tree of Life started to grow as people left flowers, cards, candles, signs and more. Roughly two-and-a-half weeks later, volunteers from all three congregations, as well as from Carnegie Mellon University and the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Heinz History Center, worked ahead of impending snow to move everything inside to be organized and cataloged for preservation. Their plan is to partially reconstruct the memorial against the windows of Tree of Life, so that it is indoors but can still be viewed from outside the building.

The Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives is still collecting artifacts.

Staff from the program and archives started collecting items in the first week after the shooting — event programs, copies of speeches and remarks, protest and vigil signs, the “I voted” sticker with “Stronger Than Hate” added to it. At a later date, items from the outside memorial will also be part of the collection at the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives where they will be available to researchers, historians and the public. The public can still contribute to the collection with physical items or by sending notes, videos, photos, social media posts and more through a digital portal.

Donations are growing.

More than $6 million has been raised to help those affected by the shooting, TribLive reported. Money was distributed for funeral costs and medical bills, as well as for security and temporary worship space for the congregations. Millions more will still be distributed.

There are still ways to help.

Many of the benefits and fundraisers were earlier in the month, but you can still help. Here’s how.

What we don’t know: Memorials and donations

When will memorial items return to public display?

After the memorial was moved from outside Tree of Life, the goal was for it to be on display in roughly four weeks, so mid-December. An exact date has yet to be set. This display will be temporary, but no timeline is set for how long it will be on display.

What will other memorials look like?

In addition to the temporary window display, plans include a memorial inside Tree of Life dedicated to the 11 people killed that could include items from the outdoor memorial. Additional details about that plan have yet to be confirmed.

The Joseph F. Weis Jr., U.S. Courthouse on Grant Street is seen on ahead of the first court appearance of Robert Bowers.

The Joseph F. Weis Jr., U.S. Courthouse on Grant Street is seen on ahead of the first court appearance of Robert Bowers.

Cara Owsley / USA TODAY Network

What we know: The court case

These are the charges against the suspected gunman.

Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin has been charged with 44 federal counts related to the incident. Thirty-two of those counts carry the possibility of the death sentence, according to the federal indictment against him.

Bowers has also been charged at the state level with 11 counts of homicide, 6 counts of criminal attempt, 6 counts of aggravated assault, and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation, a first-degree felony, “based on what Bowers described himself as his hatred for ‘Jews,'” per a criminal complaint filed by Pittsburgh Police.

It’s being tried as a hate crime.

The federal case against Bowers includes hate crimes charges. A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias, according to the FBI. Reports that Bowers conveyed a desire to “kill Jews” while inside Tree of Life and reports he made similar statements to responding officers both support the legal premise that an added element of bias exists in this case.

Bowers is now in prison.

Bowers was to be held at Butler County Prison indefinitely, and he was remanded to the custody of U.S. Marshals shortly after his arrest. He is being held without bond.

The investigation at Tree of Life by law enforcement is complete.

The law enforcement investigation at the site of the massacre is done, and cleanup is underway. With authorities done at the scene, a group of 30 volunteers recovered any of the blood or other remains of the deceased that were still in the building. The remains and any items that had been stained with blood, such as a prayer shawl, were buried at two Jewish cemeteries.

Bowers has pleaded not guilty.

In a federal court appearance on Nov. 1, Bowers entered a “not guilty” plea. The plea is largely a formality and a way of keeping legal options open as Bowers and his public defenders wait to see the evidence federal prosecutors have against him and whether this ends up being a death penalty case or not. His defense team has not yet spoken publicly.

What we don’t know: The court case

Will the death penalty be pursued for Robert Bowers?

While it’s likely that the death penalty will be approved for Bowers, that decision has yet to be made. The decision is up to the U.S. Attorney General, but it’s unclear if acting AG Matthew Whitaker will make the decision or if it will be decided by the next person in the job. As of Monday, a spokesperson with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania said no decision had been issued from Washington, D.C. If convicted and sentenced to death, Bowers would be the second person sentenced to die on federal hate crimes charges in U.S. History. Mother Emanuel AME church shooter Dylann Roof was the first.

When will Bowers’ trial start?

A decision on the death penalty has to come before a trial can start since a capital case would impact lawyer preparation and jury selection. A status conference is still scheduled for Dec. 11 before United States Senior District Judge Donetta Ambrose, the federal judge currently assigned to the case. A status conference is typically held to determine if a plea is likely, if there are still unresolved evidentiary issues or to schedule a trial date. Bowers’ trial is expected to last three to four weeks or longer if there’s a death penalty phase.

What’s next for the state’s case against Bowers? 

Local prosecutors have put the state case against Bowers on hold to allow the federal case to proceed. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said in a written statement, “While we are confident that we can move forward with our prosecution, as a practical matter, the circumstances indicate that it is prudent to allow this case to proceed at the federal level at this time.”

Mayor Bill Peduto speaks at Pittsburgh's Rally for Peace on Nov. 9, 2019.

Mayor Bill Peduto speaks at Pittsburgh's Rally for Peace on Nov. 9, 2019.

Renee Rosensteel / For The Incline

What we know: Lawmakers’ response

President Trump wants the death penalty for Bowers.

On the day of the shooting, Trump called for the death penalty twice.

“When people do this, they should get the death penalty,” Trump said during a Future Farmers of America Convention in Indiana. “Anybody that does a thing like this to innocent people that are in temple or in church ― we’ve had so many incidents with churches ― they should be suffering the ultimate price.”

And according to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, the president brought it up in a call on the day of the shooting.

Democrats called for gun reform.

State Rep. Dan Frankel, who represents Squirrel Hill, and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, who represents Pittsburgh, both called for “common sense” when it comes to guns and gun laws in the hours and days after the shooting. So did Peduto and Gov. Tom Wolf.

“We must take action to prevent these tragedies in the future. We simply cannot accept this violence as a normal part of American life,” Wolf said at a press conference on the day of the shooting. In New York State, a legislator’s push to include screenings of social media and internet histories before a person can legally own a gun there invoked the shooting at Tree of Life and reports of Bowers’ internet presence being littered with anti-Semitic commentary. Peduto has also said the City of Pittsburgh is eyeing local-level gun controls after Tree of Life despite the fact that this issue falls firmly within the purview of state lawmakers.

What we don’t know: Lawmakers’ response

Will gun reform happen after the Tree of Life massacre?

Two weeks before the shooting, Wolf signed Act 79, formerly known as HB 2060. It requires people with a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction or final protection from abuse order to relinquish firearms within 24 hours. Those people can no longer hand over weapons to family or friends. Some say this is a sign that more gun reform can pass, but it all depends on what happens when the General Assembly returns in January for a new session.

A tribute to shooting victims along Shady Avenue on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018

A tribute to shooting victims along Shady Avenue on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018

Alton Strupp/USA TODAY NETWORK

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