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Hate-Crime Charges Ratchet Synagogue Shooting Case to 63 Counts

A federal grand jury added 19 hate-crime and other charges Tuesday to the already considerable indictment of the Pennsylvania man apprehended at the scene of America’s deadliest anti-Semitic attack.

PITTSBURGH (CN) – A federal grand jury added 19 hate-crime and other charges Tuesday to the already considerable indictment of the Pennsylvania man apprehended at the scene of America’s deadliest anti-Semitic attack.

Robert Bowers, 46, is said to have shouted “all Jews must die” as he burst into the Tree of Life Synagogue outside Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018 — interrupting Shabbat services and a bris.

Robert Bowers is the suspect in the Oct. 27, 2018, shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Photo via Pennsylvania Department of Transportation)

After killing 11 congregants, Bowers is said to have barricaded himself on the third floor of the building. He was apprehended after a gun battle with police during which he was shot.

Tuesday’s filing of the superseding indictment comes nearly three months after the Baldwin, Pa.-based Bowers pleaded not guilty to the initial 44 counts.

In addition to 13 violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the new indictment adds corresponding counts for discharging a firearm during those crimes of violence.

Bowers “intentionally obstructed by force each victim ... in the enjoyment of that victim’s free exercise of religious beliefs,” the indictment states.

Prosecutors also allege that Bowers “willfully caused bodily injury to each victim … because of that victim's actual and perceived religion.”

Bowers is also charged with causing injuries to two Tree of Life congregants who survived the shooting with gunshot wounds, and five police officers who were injured while trying to effect Bowers’ arrest. Another 12 congregants managed to flee the scene with no physical injuries. 

Tuesday’s indictment relies heavily on content Bowers posted to Gab.com, the homepage of which touts it as “a social network that champions free speech, individual liberty and the free flow of information online.”

This courtroom sketch depicts Robert Gregory Bowers, who was wounded in a gun battle with police, using a wheelchair to appear in federal court on Oct. 29, 2018, in Pittsburgh. Bowers, accused in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, appeared briefly in federal court in a wheelchair and handcuffs Monday to face charges he killed 11 people. (Dave Klug via AP)

Among other “anti-Semitic hate speech,” Bowers is said to have written in his profile that “jews are the children of satan.”

A few weeks before the shooting, on Oct. 10, 2018, Bowers posted a listing from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of Jewish, which noted congregations that were hosting refugee-related events. Dor Hadash, one of three small congregations that worshipped at Tree of Life, had been one such group.

"Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us? We appreciate the list of friends you have provided," Bowers wrote.  

Prosecutors say Bowers posted another disturbing threat on Gab on the day of the shooting. “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” he wrote. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Bowers is said to have carried out the shooting with three Glock .357 handguns and a Colt AR-15 rifle.

He faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted on any of the additional 19 counts.

The FBI, assisted by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and the Allegheny County Police, conducted the investigation that lead to this superseding indictment. On behalf of the government, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Troy Rivetti and Soo C. Song will be pursuing these charges along with Department of Justice trial attorney Julia Gegenheimer.

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