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Suspected Squirrel Hill synagogue gunman: 'Jews are the children of Satan'

| Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, 4:24 p.m.
Robert D. Bowers
Submitted
Robert D. Bowers
The scene at the apartment complex where alleged Squirrel Hill shooter Robert Bowers lives.
Natasha Lindstrom | Tribune-Review
The scene at the apartment complex where alleged Squirrel Hill shooter Robert Bowers lives.

In repeated online posts, Robert D. Bowers shared hateful anti-Semitic writings and called Jews “the children of Satan.”

On Saturday, minutes before authorities said Bowers stormed into a Squirrel Hill synagogue and killed 11 people, he posted one final rant: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Federal prosecutors charged Bowers, 46, with 29 counts of violence and firearms offenses. Authorities said Bowers had with him an assault rifle and three handguns when he charged into the Tree of Life Congregation.

“The actions that this person took were hateful,” said Bob Jones, FBI Special Agent of the Pittsburgh Field Office.

The charges followed tense hours on Saturday afternoon, when local and federal officials descended on a Baldwin apartment complex where Bowers lived.

Chris Hall, 28, who moved into the McAnulty Acres apartment complex four years ago, said he’s lived on the same floor as Bowers for one and a half to two years. The apartment complex is surrounded by single-family homes in a typically quiet area near the South Baldwin Volunteer Fire Department.

Bowers had told Hall’s fiancée that he was a long-haul trucker, Hall said. He would be in town for several days and then gone for several days.

Mostly, “he kept to himself,” Hall said.

“I just went about my day and he went about his day,” Hall said.

The only notable behavior that stood out to Hall was Bowers’ habit of watching what sounded like the news at odd hours, such as 3 a.m.

Hall and his neighbors learned of Bowers’ connection to the synagogue shooting after officials evacuated their complex for several hours Saturday to search and collect evidence.

“I wish I knew what was going on inside of his head,” Hall said. “I wish there was some type of warning sign. Anything. … I just wish we knew.”

Bowers was injured by gunfire and was being treated at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh’s North Side.

Bowers posted and shared anti-Semitic writings on the social media network Gab.

A profile by the name of Robert Bowers wrote that “Jews are the children of Satan.” That profile was unavailable Saturday.

In a statement , Gab officials said they are “saddened and disgusted.”

“Shortly after the attack, Gab was alerted to a user profile of the alleged Tree of Life Synagogue shooter,” officials said in the statement. “The account was verified and matched the name of the alleged shooter’s name, which was mentioned on police scanners.”

Gab suspended the account and contacted law enforcement.

Other posts on the account that were saved by other users and posted online show him sharing hateful anti-Semitic writings by other users and opposition to refugees and immigrants entering the United States. On several occasions, he attacked Maryland-based HIAS, a national nonprofit guided by Jewish values that helps refugees.

In response to a HIAS list of communities nationwide having a Shabbat dedicated for refugees Oct. 19 and 20, Bowers posted that he appreciated a “list of friends.” Four such events were scheduled in the Pittsburgh area.

Minutes before the shooting, Bowers allegedly wrote on his Gab page, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

HIAS officials expressed devastation in a statement released Saturday.

“This loss is our loss, and our thoughts are with Tree of Life Congregation, our local partner Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) of Pittsburgh, the city of Pittsburgh and all those affected by this senseless act of violence,” the statement said. “As we try to process this horrifying tragedy, we pray that the American Jewish community and the country can find healing.”

Earlier Saturday, police spent about 45 minutes interviewing neighbors near a Whitehall house whose address was linked to Bowers, not far from the Baldwin apartment. About 1:30 p.m., a police helicopter circled the Whitehall single-family residence on Fieldcrest Drive.

Neighbor Kathleen McCaffrey, 68, said she recognized a photo of Bowers as a man who frequented the home but she did not believe he lived there. She thought he was a caregiver helping a woman there care for a young man with severe disabilities. She often saw Bowers taking smoke breaks in the yard while the woman was at work, but hasn’t seen him for months.

“He never said, ‘Hi,’ to people or nothing,” McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey said she last saw Bowers at the Whitehall home in late June lighting fireworks as part of a gathering of about a dozen people.

Bowers has no criminal history in Pennsylvania, according to online records.

He pleaded guilty to an April 15, 2015, traffic ticket in Butler County. He was cited in Cranberry for unlawfully operating a vehicle without identification markers, according to court records.

He did not have a political party affiliation on his voter registration.

Renatta Signorini and Natasha Lindstrom are Tribune-Review staff writers. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta. You can reach Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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