Pittsburgh synagogue shooter said he 'wanted all Jews to die,' police allege

The suspect in Saturday's massacre expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and told officers afterward that Jews were committing genocide, according to charging documents made public this morning.

'We always did say 'Never again,' but it did happen again. It's unbelievable,' Holocaust survivor says

A worshipper holds his head as he's escorted out of the Tree of Life Congregation following Saturday's shooting. Police radio communications captured the final moments of their confrontation with the attacker, who killed 11 people. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/AP)

The suspect in Saturday's mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and told officers afterward that Jews were committing genocide and he wanted them all to die, according to charging documents made public this morning.

Robert Gregory Bowers killed eight men and three women inside the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday during worship services before a tactical police team tracked him down and shot him, police allege in an affidavit, which contains some unreported details on the shooting and the police response.

The tactical team found Bowers on the synagogue's third floor, where he shot two officers multiple times, the affidavit says. One officer was described as critically wounded; the document did not describe the other officer's condition.

An audio recording of police radio communications captured the moment the SWAT team confronted the shooter:

'Operator shot': Police scanner captures audio of attack

5 years ago
Duration 0:57
Panicked moments as police respond to massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue

"We have one operator hit, high on the arm. We have a tourniquet on it," an officer says over the radio.

"Spontaneous negotiations ongoing, communications effort to get him to come out. Tell him we're not coming in."

Police persuaded the shooter to surrender in short order, the audio recording indicates.

United States Attorney Scott Brady, at podium, speaks at a news conference Sunday where the names of the 11 victims shot dead were released. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

"Be advised, we have suspect giving us hands in view. We're negotiating his surrender at this time," an officer says, followed shortly by: "Clear the air, we have a surrender in progress. Suspect is crawling out at this time."

Officials released the names of all 11 victims during a news conference Sunday, all of them middle-aged or elderly. The victims included a pair of brothers and a husband and wife. The oldest was 97.

The victims included Melvin Wax, who was always one of the first to arrive at synagogue and among the last to leave.

"Mel," an 88-year-old retired accountant, was unfailingly generous and a "sweet, sweet guy," said Myron Snider, a fellow member of New Light Congregation, which rented space in the basement of Tree of Life. "He and I used to, at the end of services, try to tell a joke or two to each other," Snider said.

The other victims named were:

  • Joyce Fienberg, 75
  • Richard Gottfried, 65
  • Rose Mallinger, 97
  • Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
  • Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and his brother David Rosenthal, 54
  • Married couple Bernice Simon, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86
  • Daniel Stein, 71
  • Irving Younger, 69

The U.S.'s latest mass shooting drew condemnation and expressions of sympathy from politicians and religious leaders of all stripes.

Pope Francis led prayers for Pittsburgh on Sunday at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.

Robert Bowers, 46, was charged Saturday with 30 state crimes and 29 federal counts, including hate crimes, after the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation)

"All of us are wounded by this inhuman act of violence," he said. He prayed for God "to help us to extinguish the flames of hatred that develop in our societies, reinforcing the sense of humanity, respect for life and civil and moral values."

Saturday's mass shooting began just before 10 a.m. Armed with an AR-15 rifle and three handguns, the assailant walked inside the synagogue during weekly services for the Jewish sabbath and began firing.

Bowers had a licence to carry firearms and legally owned his guns, according to law enforcement officials.

Officials say first responders prevented additional casualties: 

Officials: Bowers expressed desire to kill Jewish people

5 years ago
Duration 1:17
Allegheny County Emergency Operations Centre provides update on alleged synagogue gunman Robert Bowers

The police affidavit says that when they later arrested Bowers, he told an officer while he was being treated for injuries "that he wanted all Jews to die and also that they [Jews] were committing genocide to his people."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the charges against Bowers "could lead to the death penalty."

With the midterm election just over a week away, the massacre also reignited a longstanding and bitter debate over guns.U.S. President Donald Trump said the outcome might have been different if the synagogue "had some kind of protection" from an armed guard, while Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, up for re-election, noted that once again "dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm's way."

In Pittsburgh, thousands gathered for a vigil Saturday night and more gatherings were planned for Sunday. Some blamed the slaughter on the nation's political climate.

Law enforcement officers check possible entrances to the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday in Pittsburgh as they responded to the deadly shooting. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/AP)

"When you spew hate speech, people act on it. Very simple. And this is the result. A lot of people dead. Senselessly," said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light Congregation, which rents space at Tree of Life.

The shooting raised immediate alarm in Jewish communities around the country. Authorities in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and other cities sent extra patrols to synagogues and other houses of worship.

Pittsburgh mayor says armed guards are not the answer:

Pittsburgh mayor says armed guards are not the answer

5 years ago
Duration 1:25
Mayor Bill Peduto says the solution is to take guns out of the hands of those who express hatred through murder

Little was known about Bowers, who apparently had no criminal record but who is believed to have expressed virulently anti-Semitic views on social media. The social media platform said the alleged shooter had a profile on its website, which is popular with far-right extremists. The company said the account was verified after the shooting and matched the name of the gunman.

A man with the same name posted on Gab before the shooting that "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."

Thousands of people attended a vigil in Pittsburgh Saturday evening for the victims of the shooting. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

HIAS is a nonprofit group that helps refugees around the world find safety and freedom. The organization says it is guided by Jewish values and history.

Bowers also recently posted a photo of a collection of three semi-automatic handguns he titled "my glock family," a reference to the firearms manufacturer. He also posted photos of bullet holes in person-sized targets at a firing range, touting the "amazing trigger" on a handgun he was offering for sale.

It wasn't clear if Bowers had an attorney to speak on his behalf.

Scott Brady, the chief federal prosecutor in western Pennsylvania, pledged that "justice in this case will be swift and it will be severe."

The killings come amid a rash of high-profile attacks in an increasingly divided country, including the series of pipe bombs mailed over the past week to prominent Democrats and former officials.

Watch as Holocaust survivors reflect on Pittsburgh synagogue shooting:

'It's a very sad day': Holocaust survivors reflect on Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

5 years ago
Duration 0:40
Holocaust survivors Carl and Bella Schachter speak with CBC's Paul Hunter outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where they came to pay their respects to the victims of Saturday's shooting.

"We always did say 'Never again,' but it did happen again. It's unbelievable," Bella Schachter, who said she survived the Holocaust as a child, told CBC News in Pittsburgh. "Eleven people lost their lives just because they are Jews ... We are a nation of peace. We like peace. But they didn't like us. It's very sad."

With files from CBC News and Reuters