A federal grand jury sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania charged a Pennsylvania man with additional federal hate crimes and firearms offenses for his conduct during the Oct. 27, 2018, shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady, and FBI-Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Robert Jones made the announcement.
Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, Pa., was charged in a 63-count superseding indictment returned today. The original indictment filed on Oct. 31, 2018, charged Bowers with 44 counts. The Superseding Indictment adds 13 violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as well as corresponding counts for discharging a firearm during those crimes of violence. The Superseding Indictment specifically alleges that Bowers willfully caused bodily injury to 11 deceased and two surviving victims because of their actual and perceived religion.
According to the Superseding Indictment, on Oct. 27, 2018, Bowers drove to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where members of the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light Jewish congregations gathered to engage in religious worship. Bowers entered the building armed with multiple firearms, including three Glock .357 handguns and a Colt AR-15 rifle. While inside the Tree of Life Synagogue, Bowers opened fire, killing and injuring members of the three congregations, as well as injuring multiple responding public safety officers as they attempted to rescue surviving victims.
The Superseding Indictment further alleges that on Oct. 10, 2018, Bowers posted statements on the website gab.com that were critical of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and affiliated congregations hosting refugee-related events. That list of congregations included the Dor Hadash Jewish congregation of Pittsburgh. In addition, a statement on his profile expressed the belief that “jews are the children of satan,” and other posts referred to Jewish people using anti-Semitic slurs. Before entering the Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018, Bowers posted the following on the website gab.com: “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.” According to the Superseding Indictment, while inside the Tree of Life Synagogue, Bowers made statements indicating his desire to “kill Jews.”
Specifically, the Superseding Indictment charges:
- Eleven counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death;
- Eleven counts of hate crimes resulting in death;
- Two counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon and resulting in bodily injury;
- Two counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill;
- Eight counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, and resulting in bodily injury to public safety officers;
- Four counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving use of a dangerous weapon and resulting in bodily injury to public safety officers;
- Twenty-five counts of discharge of a firearm during these crimes of violence.
The victims include 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue who were killed, two congregants who were critically injured by Bowers and 12 congregants who escaped unharmed. Additionally, the victims include five responding public safety officers who were injured while attempting to rescue surviving victims and apprehend Bowers.
Assistant United States Attorneys Troy Rivetti and Soo C. Song, along with Department of Justice Trial Attorney Julia Gegenheimer, are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The FBI, with the valuable assistance of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the Allegheny County Police, conducted the investigation leading to the Superseding Indictment in this case. Dozens of federal, state and local law enforcement officers also assisted in the investigation.
Twenty-two counts in the Superseding Indictment are capital-eligible offenses. Should the Attorney General of the United States determine that the circumstances of the offenses are such that a sentence of death is justified, the law requires that notice be filed with the court at a reasonable time before trial. The defendant further faces a maximum possible penalty of life without parole, followed by a consecutive sentence of 250 years’ imprisonment.