Federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty for the man that was accused of firing an AR-15 inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh over the weekend. Eleven people were killed during the anti-Semitic massacre.
Mark Raimondi, spokesman for the Department of Justice, said the US Attorney for western PA has begun the approval process to seek the death penalty for the accused, 46 year old Robert Bowers.
It is alleged that Bowers entered the Squirrel Hill synagogue in Pittsburgh armed with three Glock pistols an an AR-15 rifle on Saturday. He targeted three different congregations, all of which were doing their Shabbat services.
During the shooting, which killed eight men and three women before a police team tracked the shooter down and shot him, it is alleged that Bowers made several statements about his desire to murder Jews. He said the Jews are committing genocide against his people and he wants to kill them.
Six other people were hurt in the attack. Four of them were police officers. According to a law enforcement official, Bowers had bought all of his weapons legally and also had a license to carry.
Police released the names of the 11 people killed; all of them were elderly or middle aged. The victims included brothers who were intellectually disabled, a husband and wife. The youngest person killed was 54 and the oldest was 97.
According to Stephen Cohen, the president of New Light Congregation, the loss of life in this massacre is incalculable.
After the massacre, President Trump said Bowers should be put to death for his crimes. Trump said that people who commit these types of crimes should get the death penalty. He said he thinks laws should be toughened and there should be the death penalty for anyone who kills innocent people in this manner. Further, he said that people who kill others should suffer the ultimate price themselves, saying that he has felt this way for a long time.
Later on Saturday, the president ordered all flags to be flown at half staff at all federal buildings in respect to those who lose their lives.
At this time, the death penalty is legal in Pennsylvania, but current Governor Tom Wolf stopped the use of the ultimate sanction when he took the office in 2015. The last person who was put to death in the state was in 1999; this was the first execution there since 1962.
A neighbor of Bowers, Chris Hall, told the police that he found the shooter to be bland and forgettable. He said that he wished he had had some type of clue about what he would do. As many people today, Bowers was more comfortable writing his extreme views online and did not say anything in person. If he had seen the man had an SS sticker on his car, he would have reported him. But he did not do anything in public that looked unusual.
According to US Attorney Scott Brady in Pittsburgh, Bowers worked as a long haul truck driver and was self employed.
But there is evidence that Bowers’ anti immigrant and anti-Semitic views were very prominent on his various social media pages. Bowers was a frequent user of Gab, which is a new social media network that is an alternative to Twitter. It says that it defends liberty and free expression online. The company said that it was in full cooperation with federal law enforcement after the shooting and that it condemns all acts of violence and terrorism.
Bowers was shot during the attack and underwent surgery yesterday. He is still in the hospital at this time. He is supposed to appear in court on Monday. It is unknown if he has an attorney to speak for him.
His neighbor Hall told the media that he has not slept since the shooting and worries there could be others who have similar hateful ideas and could be hiding in plain sight. Hall said it is hard to believe that someone could do something like this, and he is still trying to come to terms with it.
What if he had been more friendly to Bowers, Hall wondered. Maybe he could have done something to prevent him from taking such violent actions. He noted that Bowers could have started his shooting spree right there in their neighborhood because it is a very diverse place with people of many different nationalities.
News of the Jewish massacre prompted condemnation from around the globe this week. Pope Francis offered prayers for Pittsburgh yesterday in St. Peter’s Square. He denounced the inhuman act of violence committed allegedly by Bowers and prayed for a final end to the flames of hatred that fuel these acts.
Yesterday evening, thousands gathered for a vigil at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh. Rabbis, ministers and other religious leaders spoke in addition to city officials, as well as leaders from the county and the state of Israel.
Reuven Rivlin, president of Israel, appeared on a video link and led the attendees in prayer by reciting a mourner’s Kaddish. The mayor of Pittsburgh said that anti-Semites should be driven back into the basement on their computers and away from dialogues and discussions and away from places where they can do harm with their hatred.