The government has begun the process of seeking the death penalty for the suspect accused of killing 11 worshipers during an anti-Semitic rampage on Sunday inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, a report said.
Robert Bowers, 46, allegedly opened fire with an AR-15 rifle during worship services inside the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, killing eight men and three women before a tactical police team tracked him down and shot him.
Six other people were injured in the attack, including four police officers.
He faces 11 counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation in addition to federal counts that include weapons offenses and hate crime charges. Bowers allegedly targeted a building that housed three separate congregations, all of which were conducting Shabbat services in the Squirrel Hill area, located about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh.
Bowers purportedly told investigators after he was captured that “all these Jews need to die.”
Holding candles, a group of girls wait for the start of a memorial vigil at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire, killing multiple people and wounding others, including sevearl police officers. (AP)
Margaret Philbin, a spokeswoman for the federal prosecutors, told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
that Scott Brady, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, has “initiated the approval process for seeking the death penalty against” Bowers. She said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would make the ultimate decision in the case if Bowers is convicted.
Philbin’s call echoed President Trump’s call for the death penalty, which came after the shooting Saturday.
“People who do this should get the death penalty,” Trump said. “I think they should stiffen up laws and I think they should very much bring the death penalty to anybody who does a thing like this to innocent people.”
He added: “They should really suffer the ultimate price — pay the ultimate price. I’ve felt this way for a very long time. People disagree with me, and I can’t imagine why.”
Later Saturday, the president ordered that flags be flown at half-staff at federal buildings in “solemn respect” for the synagogue shooting victims.
Earlier this month, the president called for the death penalty to be brought against “criminals” who kill police officers. The president has issued calls for a stricter death penalty policy since the 2016 presidential campaign.
The death penalty is legal in Pennsylvania, though current Gov. Tom Wolf halted the process when he took office in 2015. The last person executed under the death penalty in Pennsylvania was in 1999–the first since 1962.
Fox News interviewed some of Bowers’ neighbors who described him as bland and “forgettable.”
“I really wish there was some type of clue,” Chris Hall, who lives next door to accused killer Robert Bowers, told Fox News.
Even though Bowers kept his views on minorities a secret from his neighbors, he did spew anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic hatred on Gab – a social media network that bills itself as an alternative to Twitter that defends “liberty and free expression online.” Gab has attracted far-right activists and some users have expressed white-nationalist rhetoric. The network said it was cooperating with law enforcement after the Pittsburgh attack and “unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence.”
Hall said he hasn’t slept since the massacre and worries there might be others who subscribe to the same hateful ideas and “hide in plain sight.”
“I didn’t think anyone could be capable of something like this,” he said. “I’m still grappling with it. What if I had been more neighborly? But I don’t know. (The gunman) could have just as easily started (shooting) here. It’s a diverse neighborhood. It could have been target practice.”
Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this report.