Synagogue shooter pleads not guilty to hate crime

Pittsburgh residents participate in a vigil for the victims. (Flickr)

By Ariel Steinsaltz
Staff Writer

A gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 27, according to CBS Pittsburgh.

The suspect, Robert Bowers, allegedly walked into the synagogue with an AR-15 rifle and three handguns during a weekly Shabbat service shouting, “All Jews must die.” The incident is being investigated as a hate crime by the FBI, according to CBS Pittsburgh.

Bowers received a 44-charge indictment, including several hate crime charges, which could lead to the death penalty if he is convicted. Bowers pleaded not guilty at his first court appearance, according to USA Today.

The shooting killed 11 people and injured six others, four of which were police officers, according to USA Today. Bowers was also wounded in the massacre.

The victims of the shooting included two brothers who had regularly attended services since their childhoods, a doctor who led Torah studies, and a research assistant who was also a front-door greeter, according to The Washington Post.

The victims ranged in age from 54 to 97, and included a husband and wife, according to USA Today.

Some of the burials took place as soon as Tuesday, Oct. 30, while others were delayed due to the investigation. Jewish customs require burials to happen as soon as possible, and do not generally allow for disfigurement of the body, though exceptions can be made for autopsies in an investigation, according to USA Today.

Respecting burial rules is particularly important for the victims’ families since they were killed specifically for being Jewish and are thus considered holy martyrs, according to USA Today.

Many people stepped forward to help in the aftermath of the shooting, according to ABC News.

Just one day after the tragedy, two Muslim groups started raising money for the victims, and by Oct. 28 had raised nearly $80,000 from more than 1,800 donors, according to CBS.

Bowers was known for being anti-Semitic, and had published posts on the social network site Gab about HIAS, a Jewish organization that helps both Jewish and non-Jewish refugees escaping persecution. Bowers believed that Jews were funding mass immigration into the U.S. and was particularly concerned with the caravan of Honduran immigrants that President Donald Trump has used to stoke immigration fears, according to New York Magazine.

Trump visited Pittsburgh on Oct. 31 to see the synagogue and meet with the rabbi who survived the attack along with families of victims. This visit was against the wishes of many residents of Pittsburgh, as tens of thousands of people signed an online petition telling Trump he was not welcome in Pittsburgh until he “‘fully denounced white nationalism,’” according to The Washington Post.