Accused Squirrel Hill synagogue shooter appears in person before a federal judge in Pittsburgh

His preliminary hearing has been set for Thursday.

The Joseph F. Weis Jr., U.S. Courthouse on Grant Street.

The Joseph F. Weis Jr., U.S. Courthouse on Grant Street.

Cara Owsley / USA TODAY Network

Updated 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.

The man accused of entering a Squirrel Hill synagogue with a Colt AR-15 rifle and three Glock .357 handguns, killing 11 people, injuring six more and making anti-Semitic remarks to law enforcement appeared Downtown before a federal judge today.

Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin was formally charged with 29 federal counts related to Saturday’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation. Authorities are calling the attack a hate crime.

Bowers was shackled in a wheelchair but showed no obvious signs of injury at the Joseph F. Weis Jr. Federal Courthouse on Grant Street where he appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell. Bowers was released from Allegheny General Hospital this morning after being treated there for gunshot wounds.

When Mitchell asked Bowers if he’d seen a copy of the criminal complaint against him, Bowers said, “Yes, sir,” and waived the reading of the complaint and a reading of the potential penalties.

He spoke clearly and simply when addressed by Mitchell and showed no emotion.

Bowers is charged with:

  • 11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death
  • 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence
  • 4 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer
  • 3 counts of use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence

After today’s hearing, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott Brady confirmed he has initiated the approval process for seeking the death penalty against Bowers.

“Following consultation with the Justice Department’s Capital Crimes Unit and a careful review of the matter based upon the facts and the law, the ultimate decision regarding capital charges rests with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” Brady’s office wrote in a statement.

He previously said 22 charges filed against Bowers — counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence — are each punishable by death.

Mitchell said Bowers submitted a financial claim requesting the appointment of a public defender.

The 1:30 p.m. hearing ended in a matter of minutes with Mitchell scheduling a preliminary hearing in the case for 10 a.m. Thursday. Mitchell ordered Bowers be held in federal custody until then.

Margaret Philbin, a spokesperson for federal prosecutors with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said she did not know where Bowers would be housed during that time or in the immediate future.

A separate statement from Brady’s office said Thursday’s preliminary hearing will be their opportunity to present “evidence demonstrating that Robert Bowers murdered 11 people who were exercising their religious beliefs, and that he shot or injured six others, four of whom were police officers responding to the shooting.”

No additional information about that evidence was immediately made available. Brady said while the investigation continues, his office must present this case to a federal grand jury within 30 days of today’s court appearance, under law.

“Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims’ families and with the community,” Brady added in speaking with reporters.

“Rest assured, we have a team of prosecutors working hard to ensure that justice is done.”

U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady made a very brief statement summarizing initial proceedings for Robert Bowers on Oct. 29, 2018 at the federal courthouse.

U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady made a very brief statement summarizing initial proceedings for Robert Bowers on Oct. 29, 2018 at the federal courthouse.

Cara Owsley / USA TODAY Network

The courtroom audience was mostly reporters, some from international outlets. Also in attendance was Jon Pushinsky, an attorney and member of the Tree of Life Congregation.

Pushinsky told a group of press after the hearing that he had come to “show we remain strong and will stand up to evil.”

Asked his reaction to seeing Bowers in person, Pushinsky said it was “not the face of villainy I thought we would see.” He described feeling underwhelmed.

Bowers is also charged at the state level with 11 counts of homicide, 6 counts of criminal attempt, 6 counts of aggravated assault, and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation, a first-degree felony, “based on what Bowers described himself as his hatred for ‘Jews,’” per a criminal complaint filed by Pittsburgh Police.

Officials have indicated the federal charges would take priority. Asked about this by email, Mike Manko, a spokesperson with Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.’s office, said he is “not in a position to comment on that right now.”

Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland; Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township; Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood; Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, brothers from Squirrel Hill; Bernice Simon, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86, a married couple from Wilkinsburg; Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill; Melvin Wax, 87, of Squirrel Hill; and Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington were killed in the synagogue attack. Read more about them here.

This article was corrected to include the correct age for Melvin Wax.