The man charged with opening fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue and killing 11 worshipers pleaded not guilty on Thursday in federal court to all 44 counts against him, including hate crimes and firearms offenses.
Robert Bowers, 46, an avowed anti-Semite, appeared defiant and determined in court. Dressed in a red jumpsuit and with a bandaged left arm, he walked into the courtroom with a swagger.
He spoke little, other than to say he understood the charges against him, and that some of them could result in the death penalty, followed by entering a plea of “not guilty.”
Bowers was injured during a shootout with police during the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood in what is believed to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. He had appeared in court on Monday shackled to a wheelchair.
Funerals will be held for Sylvan Simon, 86, his wife, Bernice, 84, and for Richard Gottfried, 65, who were killed on Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill district in the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty against Bowers, who also faces hate crime and firearm charges.
Bowers is accused of bursting into the synagogue and opening fire with a semi-automatic rifle and three pistols in the midst of Sabbath prayer services as he shouted “All Jews must die.”
Six people, including four police officers, were wounded before the suspect was shot by police and surrendered.
The attack, following a wave of pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats, heightened national tensions days ahead of elections on Tuesday that will decide whether U.S. President Donald Trump loses the Republican majority he now enjoys in both houses of Congress.
The Pittsburgh massacre also fueled a debate over Trump’s rhetoric and his self-identification as a “nationalist,” which critics say has fomented a surge in right-wing extremism and may have helped provoke Saturday’s bloodshed.
The Trump administration has rejected the notion that he has encouraged white nationalists and neo-Nazis who have embraced him, insisting he is trying to unify America even as he continues to disparage the media as an “enemy of the people.”
Mourners had gathered on Wednesday for the funerals of Melvin Wax, 88, who was leading Sabbath services for one of the temple’s three congregations when the attack began; retired real estate agent Irving Younger, 69; and retired university researcher Joyce Fienberg, 75.
On Wednesday, the after-effects of the tragedy pervaded life in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, where the synagogue is located.
In coffee shops, customers talked about the victims they knew, remembering them as civic-minded, kind and pillars of the community. In the street, friends embraced and comforted one another during the period of raw grief.
Libby Zal said that Younger was such a fixture in Squirrel Hill that a local store he frequented would send him a “get well” card if he was absent for a few days
Dan Frankel, a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, called Younger outgoing and opinionated.
“He was very interested in social justice and he probably would not have wanted the death penalty (for the gunman),” Frankel said.
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