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Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect identified as Robert Bowers: What we know

Last Updated Oct 29, 2018 5:07 AM EDT

Authorities have identified the suspect in a fatal shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue as Robert Bowers, who has been hospitalized with multiple gunshot wounds. Authorities say he killed 11 people and injured six others during service in a busy synagogue.

The Justice Department announced Saturday that it had filed 29 charges against him, including 11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death. He also faces state charges, including 11 counts of murder six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation.

The department said it would file hate crime and other criminal charges against Bowers. U.S. Attorney Scott Brady says federal prosecutors are seeking approval to pursue the death penalty against him.

"Today, 11 innocent people were suddenly and viciously murdered during religious services," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement Saturday. "These alleged crimes are reprehensible and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation."

According to the criminal complaint against Bowers, he told a SWAT operator while receiving medical treatment that he wanted "all Jews to die" and that he believed Jews were "committing genocide to his people."

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Robert Bowers

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Bowers was armed with an assault rifle and at least three handguns, Robert Jones of the FBI's Pittsburgh Field Office said Saturday. Jones said it is unclear how Bowers obtained the guns and if he used all three handguns during the attack.

Wendell Hissrich, the city's public safety director, would not say if Bowers was cooperating with investigators.

Bowers' online activity shows he posted anti-Semitic threats and conspiracy theories in the weeks before Saturday's shooting. On Saturday morning, he posted an anti-Semitic message and wrote "screw your optics, I'm going in."

Here's what we know about Bowers so far:

  • Police said Bowers shouted "All Jews must die!" while firing indiscriminately in the Tree of Life synagogue during services. He exchanged gunfire with officers while confined on the third floor of the synagogue before being taken into custody.
  • According to the criminal complaint against Bowers, he told a SWAT operator while receiving medical treatment that he believed Jews were "committing genocide to his people."  
  • Bowers has been hospitalized with multiple gunshot wounds
  • Bowers was a regular user on Gab, a social network often associated with white supremacists and extremists. Shortly after the attack, Gab was alerted to a user profile of the alleged Tree of Life Synagogue shooter. The account was verified and matched the name of the alleged shooter's name, which was mentioned on police scanners. 
  • On Gab, Bowers posted dozens of anti-Semitic messages in the past month, including denials of the Holocaust and conspiracy theories about Jews destroying the planet and fueling mass migration. Many of the posts included a slur for Jews. A quote on the top of his page said, "jews are the children of satan." He also posted about popular right-wing conspiracy theories such as QAnon.
  • Bowers posted several messages supporting parts of President Trump's political agenda, such as opposition to mass migration, while also implying that Jews and a "deep state" in the government were manipulating the president. One post included a meme of a Jewish man telling Mr. Trump to "appear to the public as a white racist" so that Jews could "control Whites." 
  • Bowers said in one post that he did not vote for Mr. Trump and had never "owned, worn or even touched" a Make America Great Again hat.
  • Bowers also appeared to post two cryptic warnings about the shooting hours before the attack. On Friday, he wrote about HIAS, a Jewish organization that aids refugees and recently listed congregations across America that held Shabbat services for refugees. "Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us? We appreciate the list of friends you have provided," Bowers wrote. On Saturday morning, about two hours before the attack, he wrote in another post, "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."

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify that Bowers posted messages supporting parts of President Trump's political agenda and to note he said he did not vote for Mr. Trump.