Police: Synagogue gunman said he wanted all Jews to die

PITTSBURGH— The suspect in the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue told officers that Jews were committing genocide and that he wanted them all to die, according to a charging document made public early Sunday.

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 said in the affidavit, which contained some previously unreported details on the shooting and the police response.

Calls began coming in to 911 from the synagogue just before 10 a.m. Saturday, reporting "they were being attacked," the document said. Bowers shot one of the first two officers to respond in the hand, and the other was wounded by "shrapnel and broken glass."

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

Two other people in the synagogue, a man and a woman, were wounded by Bowers and were in stable condition, the document said.

Bowers told an officer while he was being treated for his injuries "that he wanted all Jews to die and also that they (Jews) were committing genocide to his people," the affidavit said.

Bowers was charged late Saturday with 11 state counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation in what the leader of the Anti-Defamation League called the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

Bowers was also charged Saturday in a 29-count federal criminal complaint that included charges of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs — a federal hate crime — and using a firearm to commit murder. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the charges "could lead to the death penalty."

It wasn't clear whether Bowers had an attorney to speak on his behalf. Law enforcement officials planned to discuss the massacre at a news conference Sunday morning.

The nation's latest mass shooting drew condemnation and expressions of sympathy from politicians and religious leaders of all stripes. With the midterm election just over a week away, it also reignited a longstanding and bitter debate over guns.

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

"In reality, 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."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman quoted Merkel on Twitter as offering her condolences and saying that "all of us must confront anti-Semitism with determination — everywhere."

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote in a condolence message to President Donald Trump that "this abhorrent crime reminds us all to do what is in our power to advocate against hatred and violence, against anti-Semitism and exclusion, and to counter with determination those who incite them."

Trump on Saturday 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."

Calling the shooting an "evil anti-Semitic attack," Trump ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the U.S. to be flown at half-staff in respect for the victims. He said he planned to travel to Pittsburgh, but offered no details.

In the city, thousands gathered for a vigil Saturday night. Some blamed the slaughter on the nation's political climate.

"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.

Little was known about Bowers, who had no apparent criminal record but who is believed to have expressed virulently anti-Semitic views on social media. Authorities said it appears he acted alone.

Worshippers "were brutally murdered by a gunman targeting them simply because of their faith," said Bob Jones, head of the FBI's Pittsburgh office, though he cautioned the shooter's full motive was not yet known.

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

The gunman targeted a building that housed three separate congregations, all of which were conducting Sabbath services when the attack began just before 10 a.m. in the tree-lined residential neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and the hub of Pittsburgh's Jewish community.

The synagogue door was unlocked on the Sabbath "because people are coming for services, and the bell would be ringing constantly. So they do not lock the door, and anybody can just walk in," said Marilyn Honigsberg, administrative assistant for New Light. "And that's what this man did."

Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the Tree of Life, said synagogue officials had not gotten any threats that he knew of before the shooting. But security was a concern, he said, and the synagogue had started working to improve it.

Continuing coverage of this story here

Jen Steer October 28, 20188:55 am

A news briefing is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Allegheny County Emergency Operations Center.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:04 am

U.S. Attorney Scott Brady, FBI Special Agent in Charge Bob Jones, Pittsburgh Director of Public Safety Wendell Hissrich, Pittsburgh Chief of Police Scott Schubert, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams, CEO Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Jeffrey Finkelstein and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto will be speaking at this news conference. 

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:09 am

U.S. Attorney Scott Brady starts by offering condolences and prayers, saying the Jewish community is one that they treasure.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:10 am

“A place of worship is a place of peace and a place of grace,” Brady says, adding that this crime is even more heinous because it happened during a service. 

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:11 am

Brady says police officers responding to the scene prevented additional loss of life. 

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:12 am

The suspect was armed with three handguns and an assault rifle. He killed 11 people, injured six and then shot three police officers. Another officer was injured by debris.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:13 am

The suspect will make his first appearance in federal court Monday morning. The charges make him eligible for the death penalty. 

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:14 am

FBI Special Agent in Charge Bob Jones says Robert Bowers is in federal custody and remains in the hospital. Right now, there are no indications he was working with other people.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:15 am

Jones says all 11 victims have been identified. They were moved from the crime scene to the medical examiner’s office.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:15 am

Bowers’ home was searched. His vehicle will be searched today. Jones cannot comment on what was found.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:16 am

Pittsburgh Director of Public Safety Wendell Hissrich says the area around Wilkins and Shady will remain closed for up to a week as they process the crime scene.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:17 am

Hissrich says there will be increased patrols, including at the event scheduled for later today.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:19 am

Pittsburgh Chief of Police Scott Schubert says one officer was already released from the hospital, a second should be released today. The other two will need more time.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:20 am

“We’re going to get through this and continue on to show what Pittsburgh is made of,” Schubert says.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:22 am

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams names the victims. Their ages are 75, 65, 97, 66, 59, 54, 84, 86, 71, 88 and 69, and include two brothers, and a husband and wife. Four Rabbis are working with the medical examiner’s office.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:24 am

President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Jeffrey Finkelstein: “This is an awful, awful period for our Jewish community, especially the families.” He thanks the police, FBI, Salvation Army and Red Cross, among others.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:25 am

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto: “Squirrel Hill is the most diverse community in Western Pennsylvania and people chose to live there because of this. The Jewish community is the backbone.”

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:30 am

U.S. Attorney Brady says they are treating this as a hate crime, not an act of domestic terrorism. He defines the two.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:31 am

FBI Special Agent in Charge Bob Jones says it appears Bowers was leaving when officers arrived. 

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:32 am

There are three congregations were holding services at the Tree of Life Synagogue and the victims are from all three congregations. CEO Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Jeffrey Finkelstein says he doesn’t know what kind of services were taking place.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:34 am

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams says they are doing everything we can to release the bodies in the shortest time frame, to accommodate the needs of the families and the criminal investigation. Some bodies will be released today.

Jen Steer October 28, 20189:35 am

FBI Special Agent in Charge Bob Jones says they are working with ATF to determined how Bowers obtained the firearms.