The suspect in a grisly shooting that left 11 people dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue was charged Wednesday in a 44-count indictment accusing him of federal hate crimes.
Officials say Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, Pa., drove to Tree of Life synagogue armed with Glock .357 handguns and a Colt AR-15 rifle. The indictment charges that while inside the synagogue, Bowers made statements indicating his desire to “kill Jews.”
In a statement announcing the indictment, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the alleged crimes “are incomprehensibly evil and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation. Therefore this case is not only important to the victims and their loved ones, but to the city of Pittsburgh and the entire nation.”
The indictment charges Bowers, a truck driver, with killing 11 people, and for each of those victims he faces separate counts of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death and of using a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence.
He also faces charges of attempting to kill people exercising their religious beliefs and civil rights charges related to injuring several police officers who responded to the attack.
The charges carry a possible death sentence, and the Justice Department has said previously that federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh had initiated the process to seek such a punishment. The case, though, must still be reviewed by Justice Department lawyers specializing in capital cases, and the final decision will ultimately be left to the attorney general.
The attack was the deadliest on Jews in U.S. history — killing worshipers who ranged in age from 54 to 97. Among those slain were two brothers who had attended services each week since boyhood, a doctor who led Torah studies and a research assistant who took turns as a front-door greeter. The indictment listed each victim only by initials.
Little is known about Bowers — aside from an allegedly deep capacity to hate. Neighbors said he seldom had visitors at his apartment in Baldwin, though he exchanged greetings with passersby. Online, though, he posted anti-Semitic and racist rants, comparing Jews to Satan and using slurs to refer to women who had relationships with black men.
Bowers also faces number of state charges filed over the weekend, including 11 counts of criminal homicide. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Tuesday his office sought to have Bowers arraigned on the state charges but was denied by federal authorities. Zappala said that he would prefer that local residents “sit in judgment” of Bowers in a trial but would let the federal case proceed and put the state charges on hold for the time being. The district attorney has signaled he is likely to also pursue a death sentence for Bowers.
While the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Tuesday that Bowers legally acquired and possessed the guns found in the synagogue and his home, the agency said Wednesday that this announcement was “premature” and that “no determination” had been made yet.
Authorities have not said whether Bowers — who was wounded during the gun battle with police responding at the synagogue — is cooperating with investigators or detailed what he may have told them. But according to the hospital that treated him for two days after the attack, he continued making comments there about wanting to kill Jews, even as some of the nurses and doctors who treated him were Jewish.
The federal public defender’s office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment about the case.