Synagogue suspect appears in court; Trump to visit Pittsburgh

<p>The man accused in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre appeared briefly in federal court in a wheelchair and handcuffs Monday to face charges he killed 11 people in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.</p>

News 12 Staff

Oct 29, 2018, 3:22 PM

Updated 2,036 days ago

Share:

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The man accused in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre appeared briefly in federal court in a wheelchair and handcuffs Monday to face charges he killed 11 people in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
Robert Gregory Bowers, who was wounded in a gun battle with police during the shooting rampage, was released from a hospital and wheeled into the courtroom, where he was ordered held without bail for a preliminary hearing on Thursday, when prosecutors will outline their case against him.
During the proceeding, Bowers talked with two court-appointed lawyers, went over documents and confirmed his identity to a judge, saying little more than "Yes" in a soft voice a few times. Courtroom deputies freed one of his hands from cuffs so he could sign paperwork. He did not enter a plea, and he was expressionless.
"It was not the face of villainy that I thought we'd see," said Jon Pushinsky, a congregant who was in court for the hearing.
Federal prosecutors set in motion plans to seek the death penalty against the 46-year-old truck driver, who authorities say expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage at the Tree of Life synagogue and later told police, "I just want to kill Jews" and "All these Jews need to die."
After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Scott Brady called the shootings "horrific acts of violence" and added: "Rest assured we have a team of prosecutors working hard to ensure that justice is done."
Meanwhile, the first funerals were set for Tuesday, and the White House announced President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will visit the same day to "express the support of the American people and to grieve with the Pittsburgh community."
The response to Trump's plans was mixed.
Leaders of a liberal Jewish group in Pittsburgh, Bend the Arc, wrote an open letter to the president, accusing him of contributing to the violence with his words and deeds and saying he was not welcome until he denounced white nationalism.
But Rabbi Jeffrey Myers with the Tree of Life synagogue made clear Trump would be welcome, telling NBC, "It would be my honor to always meet a president of the United States."
The weekend massacre - which took place 10 days before the midterm elections - heightened tensions around the country, coming just a day after the arrest of the Florida man accused of sending a wave of pipe bombs to Trump critics.
The mail bomb attacks and the bloodshed in Pittsburgh set off debate over whether the corrosive political climate in Washington and beyond contributed to the violence and whether Trump himself bears any blame because of his combative language.
Barry Werber, 76, said he found himself hiding in a dark storage closet as the gunman rampaged through the building, in the tree-lined neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, the historic hub of the city's Jewish community.
Werber said he hopes Trump doesn't visit Pittsburgh, noting that the president has embraced the politically fraught label of "nationalist." He said the Nazis were nationalists.
"It's part of his program to instigate his base," Werber said, and "bigots are coming out of the woodwork."
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat, said the White House should contact the victims' families and ask them if they want the president to come to Pittsburgh. He also warned Trump to stay away when the first funerals are held.
"If the president is looking to come to Pittsburgh, I would ask that he not do so while we are burying the dead," Peduto said. "Our attention and our focus is going to be on them, and we don't have public safety that we can take away from what is needed in order to do both."
Bowers killed eight men and three women before a police tactical team shot him, authorities said. Six other people were wounded, including four officers. Four of the wounded remained hospitalized Sunday night, two in critical condition.
The president of the hospital where a wounded Bowers was taken said that he was ranting against Jews even as Jewish staff members were treating him.
"He's taken into my hospital and he's shouting, 'I want to kill all the Jews!' and the first three people who are taking care of him are Jewish," Jeffery Cohen of Allegheny General Hospital told ABC's "Good Morning America." ''Ain't that a kick in the pants?"
Cohen, who is also Jewish and a member of Tree of Life synagogue, said he stopped by Bowers' room.
"I just asked how he was doing, was he in pain, and he said no, he was fine," Cohen said. "He asked who I was, and I said, 'I'm Dr. Cohen, the president of the hospital,' and I turned around and left."
He said the FBI agent outside Bowers' room told him he didn't think he could have done that. "And I said, 'If you were in my shoes I'm sure you could have,'" Cohen said.
Bowers was charged in a 29-count federal criminal complaint that included counts of obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death - a hate crime - and using a gun to commit murder.
Bowers was also charged under state law with criminal homicide, aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation.
Just minutes before the synagogue attack, Bowers apparently took to social media to rage against HIAS, a Jewish organization that resettles refugees under contract with the U.S. government.
"HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people," he is believed to have written on Gab.com, a social media site favored by right-wing extremists. "I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."
HIAS had recently weighed in on the migrant caravan heading toward the U.S. from Central America, urging the Trump administration to "provide all asylum seekers the opportunity to present their claims as required by law." The president has vilified the caravan and pledged to stop the migrants.
One of the targets of the mail bomb attacks last week was liberal Jewish philanthropist George Soros, who has been accused by far-right conspiracy theorists of paying migrants to join the caravan.
The youngest of the 11 dead was 54, the oldest 97. The toll included a husband and wife, professors, dentists and physicians.
Bowers shot his victims with an AR-15, used in many of the nation's mass shootings, and three handguns, all of which he owned legally and had a license to carry, according to a law enforcement official who wasn't authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bowers was a long-haul trucker who worked for himself, authorities said. Little else was known about Bowers, who had no apparent criminal record.

___
 
Lauer reported from Philadelphia. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Mark Scolforo in Pittsburgh, Michael Balsamo in Washington, Jennifer Peltz in New York and Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania.
 
___
 
(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
10/29/2018 5:15:26 PM (GMT -4:00)


More from News 12
Family lawyer: 6-day search at Heuermann home appeared to be focused in the basement

Family lawyer: 6-day search at Heuermann home appeared to be focused in the basement

2:44
Partly cloudy skies and possible stray storm Sunday on Long Island; showers likely for Memorial Day

Partly cloudy skies and possible stray storm Sunday on Long Island; showers likely for Memorial Day

1:44
Remainder of Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach canceled due to ‘poor weather conditions’

Remainder of Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach canceled due to ‘poor weather conditions’

0:30
Police: Good Samaritan rescues 3 people from boat fire in Great South Bay

Police: Good Samaritan rescues 3 people from boat fire in Great South Bay

2:53
2024 Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach: What you need to know

2024 Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach: What you need to know

Guide: 2024 Memorial Day Parades on Long Island

Guide: 2024 Memorial Day Parades on Long Island

0:27
Police: 2 motorcyclists hospitalized following collision with Amazon van in Roslyn

Police: 2 motorcyclists hospitalized following collision with Amazon van in Roslyn

1:50
Officials: Multiple crews respond to small explosion, fire at Valley Stream home

Officials: Multiple crews respond to small explosion, fire at Valley Stream home

0:36
Memorial Day parade makes its way through Island Park

Memorial Day parade makes its way through Island Park

2:08
Blood test that detects colon cancer close to receiving FDA approval

Blood test that detects colon cancer close to receiving FDA approval

1:52
170,000+ pour into Jones Beach for aerial spectacular feats of Bethpage Air Show

170,000+ pour into Jones Beach for aerial spectacular feats of Bethpage Air Show

0:24
Police: Manhattan man arrested, accused of taking photos up woman’s skirt in East Farmingdale store

Police: Manhattan man arrested, accused of taking photos up woman’s skirt in East Farmingdale store

0:45
Police: 2 suspects face charges for robbery, assault at Hicksville smoke shop

Police: 2 suspects face charges for robbery, assault at Hicksville smoke shop

1:52
Record crowds of over 106,000 watch practice show of Bethpage Air Show

Record crowds of over 106,000 watch practice show of Bethpage Air Show

1:59
 Multiple vehicle crash shuts down Roosevelt road for hours

Multiple vehicle crash shuts down Roosevelt road for hours

2:21
Long Island beaches open for the summer

Long Island beaches open for the summer

0:27
Man arrested in hit-and-run that seriously injured University of Albany student from Floral Park

Man arrested in hit-and-run that seriously injured University of Albany student from Floral Park

0:27
Brentwood man found guilty of fatally stabbing his cousin, trying to kill victim's girlfriend

Brentwood man found guilty of fatally stabbing his cousin, trying to kill victim's girlfriend

News 12 Book Club

News 12 Book Club

2:42
Garden Guide: This is why you should grow Geraniums this summer

Garden Guide: This is why you should grow Geraniums this summer