Watch CBS News

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting survivors give horrifying testimony during second day of trial

Survivors give horrifying testimony during second day of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial
Survivors give horrifying testimony during second day of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial 03:18

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Witnesses are back on the stand in federal court Wednesday for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial.

As the day got underway, Judge Robert Colville announced that a courtroom guest had tested positive for COVID-19, but since the court is well ventilated, the trial can continue.   

Testimony Day 2

Wendy Kobee, a member of Congregation Dor Hadash, was the first to take the stand on day two of the trial.

Carol Black, the sister of a slain victim, Richard Gottfried, testified she and her brother would attend Saturday morning services with Congregation New Light. She called Gottfried, who is a very popular dentist and health care volunteer, along with members Melvin Wax and Dan Stein "the three pillars" of the congregation.

"They made sure everything was done correctly and ready to go so the congregation could enjoy the services," she said.

Of Melvin Wax, she said: "Mel was a great guy. He was lively and animated. He knew 50 million jokes. He was just a delightful person."

"Dan knew everyone," she said of Stein. "Very outgoing, very social, always smiled. He knew everyone in the congregation. I think he knew everyone in Squirrel Hill. He was just a wonderful human being."

Carol Black, the sister of victim Richard Gottfried, takes the stand in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial. (Sketch by: Emily Goff

Preparing for services, she said she heard a loud bang followed by another. Then, a succession of rapid fire bangs. 

"You just don't go to a synagogue and expect to hear gunfire, until I heard the rapid succession," she said. "I think everybody realized what it was."

Black said Rabbi Jonathan Perlman told them, "We have to get out of here." He led Black, Wax and another congregant, Barry Werber, to another room and into a closet. Gunfire continued for a long time, and then there was a long pause.

"I think Mel perceived it was over and he went to the doorway, and he opened the door to see what was going on," Black said. The shooter saw the door was open a little bit and he came into the area we were in and he shot Mel. Mel went down to the ground on his back and was dying."

"At that point, I heard a gunshot," Werber testified today. "Mel Wax fell back into the room. I saw the figure of a person step over the body and step back."

Witness Barry Werber gives testimony during the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial on May 31, 2023, smiling as he affectionately remembers Cecil Rosenthal. (Photo: Emily Goff)

She and Werber stayed quiet. She said she could see the shadow of the gunman moving back and forth.

"I just remained calm," Black testified. "I just stayed calm. If I was calm and I reassured myself that nothing would happen to me, I would be safe and he would go away."

"At one point, I saw a light and I heard what I thought were police radios, and I thought, 'Oh, they're coming to rescue us,' and I was right. It was the SWAT team. I had to step over Mel. Very hard to look at him. It was very hard to look at him on the floor. I just quietly, to myself, said goodbye to him and followed the officers." 

Dan Leger was shot that morning and saw his life pass before his eyes. 

On the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, Dan Leger and Jerry Rabinowitz of the Dor Hadash congregation were preparing to read a biblical passage about Moses and Sarah welcoming a stranger into their tent. Moments later, a gunman entered the synagogue and began shooting.

"Jerry looked at me and said 'Oh, damn,'" Leger testified. "We looked at each other and we knew we needed to do something to help so we moved in the direction of the gunfire. That was perhaps a stupid thing to do, but that's what we did."

Rabinowitz was a physician, Leger a nurse. Leger said their professions had taught them to be helpers. But no sooner had he gone in the direction of the gunfire, he was shot in the stairway and fell on the steps with a gunshot wound to his abdomen.

"It was a pain that gradually increased -- a very intensive pressure that became excruciating as it moved through my abdomen and my hips," he said. 

But he said he could hear the gunfire and voices. He heard the voice of Irv Younger, who would die in the attack, calling in horror to Cecil Rosenthal, who would also die. "Either Irv was alarmed at seeing the condition Cecil was in or he was trying to warn him," Leger said. But Leger made not a sound -- "Because I realized that if the shooter knew I wasn't dead, he would come back and finish the job." 

Dan Leger, who was wounded in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and survived, gives testimony during the second day of the trial on May 31, 2023.  (Photo: Emily Goff)

But being a nurse, Leger said he realized he was dying. "I viewed my life, and I thought about the wonder of it all. The beauty of it. All the happiness I had experienced in my life. The joy of having two beautiful sons and a beautiful wife. I was ready. I was ready to go."

After close to an hour, he saw pant legs appear before him, and he said: "Either this is a helper or the shooter. I was dying and I had nothing to lose."

He put up his hand and heard an EMT say: "This one's alive."

His dear friend Jerry Rabinowitz would die in the attack and Leger suffers from his injuries but says he is grateful to be alive. 

Recapping The Trial

The first day of the trial brought tough testimony with emotions running high.

After more than a four-year wait, prosecutors began presenting their case. Jurors heard chilling opening statements and emotional testimony at the federal courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh.

In her opening statement, prosecutor Soo Song described the defendant Robert Bowers as a hate-fuel antisemite and told the jury she would spare no detail in describing in horrific detail, the killing of each of the 11 victims at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill on October 27, 2018.

Emily Goff

To the apparent surprise of the jury, defense attorney Judy Clarke began her opening statements by readily admitting that her defendant was responsible for the carnage, calling his actions immeasurable and inexcusable.


Ultimately, the defense will ask the jury to spare the defendant's life but for the next few weeks, they will simply listen to his horrific acts.

The accused gunman faces 68 counts in the attack.

Since the beginning of the trial process, the case has been less about guilt and more about whether or not he will receive the death penalty.

Testimony is set to resume later this morning. 

For continuing coverage of the trial, visit this link.

Support is available for those in need during the trial

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health effects from the trial, go to to find help resources. As always, call 911 to report threats. 

Phone: 412-697-3534

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.