Robert Bowers, suspect in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, has first federal court appearance

The 46-year-old man accused of entering a Pittsburgh-area synagogue Saturday and gunning down 11 people celebrating the Shabbat appeared in federal court just hours after he was released from a local hospital.

Robert Gregory Bowers, who is accused of killing eight men and three women inside the Tree of Life Synagogue, entered the courtroom in a wheelchair. During the brief hearing, he waived the reading of the criminal complaint against him and accepted a public defender.

Judge Brian Mitchell set the preliminary hearing for Thursday morning.

Bowers was charged with 29 federal counts that include obstructing the free exercise of religious belief resulting in death – a federal hate crime – and using a firearm to commit murder. Federal prosecutors confirmed they intend to pursue the death penalty.

He also faces 11 state counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 12 counts of ethnic intimidation.


Authorities are working to piece together Bowers’ background and movements before he allegedly entered the synagogue about 10 miles from downtown Pittsburgh on Saturday morning.

According to the criminal complaint, Bowers targeted three separate congregations, all of which were conducting Shabbat services in the Squirrel Hill area synagogue, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and the hub of the city’s Jewish community.

Bowers shot his victims with an AR-15 and three Glock handguns, all of which he owned legally and had a license to carry, the Associated Press reported. He was stopped after exchanging gunfire with police.

Authorities said Bowers expressed hatred of Jews during the deadly rampage and later told a police officer that “they’re committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews.”

Speaking at a vigil in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said about a dozen people had gathered in the synagogue's main sanctuary when Bowers walked in and began shooting. He said seven of his congregants were killed.

"My holy place has been defiled," he said.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday, Myers said he was able to alert authorities to the shooting because had recently attended a security training and had his cellphone on him.

He said he hadn’t always carried a cellphone on the Sabbath, but a security expert told him in August they were living in a new era and he needed to carry it.

Myers said he spent 20 minutes on the phone with police and it “felt like an eternity.”


Officials released the names of all 11 of the dead, all of them middle-aged or elderly. The victims included intellectually disabled brothers and a husband and wife. The youngest was 54, and the oldest was 97 – later identified as a Holocaust survivor.

"The loss is incalculable," said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light Congregation, which rents space at Tree of Life.

Little was known about the suspect, who had no apparent criminal record but who is believed to have expressed virulently anti-Semitic views on social media.

A person stands in front of Stars of David that are displayed in front of the Tree of Life Synagogue with the names of those killed in Saturday's deadly shooting in Pittsburgh, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A person stands in front of Stars of David that are displayed in front of the Tree of Life Synagogue with the names of those killed in Saturday's deadly shooting in Pittsburgh, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

To share his anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic views, Bowers allegedly used, a social media network billing itself as an alternative to Twitter that defends “liberty and free expression online.”

On Monday, the social media site was taken down. said it has been "systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors."

In an audio statement on Twitter, co-founder and CEO Andrew Torba called Saturday's shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue that killed 11 an "act of terrorism." He said the site has a zero-tolerance policy for terrorism.


Chris Hall, who lives next door to Bowers, described the suspected shooter as bland and “forgettable.”

“I really wish there was some type of clue,” Hall told Fox News, adding his neighbor “felt more comfortable expressing his views online rather than in person. If I were to wave to him and he said, ‘All Jews must die’ or there was an SS sticker on his car, I would have f---ing reported him…but he didn’t do any of those things.”

Hall said he hasn’t slept since the massacre and worries there might be others who subscribe to the same hateful ideas and “hide in plain sight.”

“I didn’t think anyone could be capable of something like this,” he said. “I’m still grappling with it. What if I had been more neighborly? But I don’t know. [The gunman] could have just as easily started [shooting] here. It’s a diverse neighborhood. It could have been target practice.”

Police said they believe Bowers was working alone.

Fox News' Barnini Chakraborty and the Associated Press contributed to this report.