Skip to main content

Rabbi Eli Wilansky lights a candle after the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018.Steph Chambers

The man accused in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was released from a hospital and turned over to federal authorities for a court appearance Monday on charges that he killed 11 people in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

Robert Gregory Bowers, 46, who was shot and wounded in a gun battle with police, arrived at the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh less than two hours after his release from Allegheny General Hospital, according to U.S. marshals. A government car with a wheelchair visible inside could be seen arriving earlier.

In Montreal, hundreds of members of the city’s Jewish community, politicians and other mourners gathered to fill a synagogue on Monday to remember the victims.

“This is the most important statement,” Reuben Joshua Poupko, rabbi of the Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue said, acknowledging the size of the crowd. “There are members of all communities here. The Jewish community doesn’t stand alone and it doesn’t grieve alone. The pain is shared by many.”

Police cruisers lined the streets around the building and the synagogue hired its own security guards to pat down every person in attendance.

Opinion: Anti-Semitism isn’t back. It never went away

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: What we know so far

Toronto’s Mel Lastman Square was also crowded on Monday evening with members of the Jewish community who gripped candles as they sang traditional songs Lo Yisa Goy and Kol Haolam Kulo, and later stood for a moment of silence.

Among those gathered were 20 family members of Joyce Fienberg, a 75-year-old who died in the shooting and had previously lived in Toronto.

Earlier on Monday, leaders of a mosque in Quebec City that was the site of a 2017 mass murder carried out by a lone gunman sent condolences to Pittsburgh’s synagogue.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians are “horrified” by the Pittsburgh attack, which occurred at a Sabbath service.

“Our hearts are with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and across Canada,” he told the House of Commons. “May the families of those murdered be comforted and may the injured recover quickly and fully. We’re working with U.S. authorities and ready to assist if required. Mr. Speaker, we will always stand united against hatred, intolerance, anti-Semitism and violence.”

The first funeral — for Cecil Rosenthal and his younger brother, David — was set for Tuesday.

The weekend massacre — which took place 10 days before the midterm elections — heightened tensions around the country, coming just a day after the arrest of the Florida man accused of sending a wave of pipe bombs to critics of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The mail bomb attacks and the bloodshed in Pittsburgh set off debate over whether the corrosive political rhetoric in Washington and beyond contributed to the violence, and whether Mr. Trump himself bears any blame. Mr. Trump plans to travel to the Pittsburgh community on Tuesday.

Mr. Bowers allegedly killed eight men and three women before a tactical police team tracked him down and shot him, authorities said. Six other people were wounded, including four officers.

He apparently posted an anti-Semitic message on a social-media account linked to him just a few minutes before the rampage. The Anti-Defamation League called it the deadliest U.S. attack on Jews.

It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Bowers has an attorney to speak on his behalf. A message left with the federal public defender’s office in Pittsburgh wasn’t returned.

Three congregations were conducting Sabbath services in the synagogue when the attack began just before 10 a.m. in the tree-lined residential neighbourhood of Squirrel Hill, about 10 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh and the hub of the city’s Jewish community.

In the basement, four members of New Light congregation were just starting to pray — with two others in the kitchen — when they heard crashing coming from upstairs, looked out the door and saw a body on the staircase, Barry Werber recalled in an interview.

Rabbi Jonathan Perlman closed the door and pushed them into a large supply closet, he said. As gunshots echoed upstairs, Mr. Werber called 911 but was afraid to say anything for fear of making any noise.

When the shots subsided, he said, another congregant, Melvin Wax, opened the door, only to be shot.

“There were three shots, and he falls back into the room where we were,” Mr. Werber said. “The gunman walks in.”

Apparently unable to see, Mr. Werber and the other congregants in the darkness, Mr. Bowers walked back out.

Mr. Werber called the gunman “a maniac” and “a person who has no control of his baser instincts.”

The youngest of the 11 dead was 54, the oldest 97. The toll included a husband and wife, professors, dentists and physicians.

Bowers shot his victims with an AR-15, used in many of the nation’s mass shootings, and three handguns, all of which he owned legally and had a license to carry, according to a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Bowers was a long-haul trucker who worked for himself, U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said. Little else was known about the suspect, who had no apparent criminal record.

Mr. Bowers was charged with 11 state counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation. He was also charged in a 29-count federal criminal complaint that included counts of obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death — a federal hate crime — and using a firearm to commit murder. He was ordered held without bail and his next hearing was scheduled for Thursday.

Federal prosecutors set in motion plans to seek the death penalty against Mr. Bowers, who authorities say expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and later told police that “I just want to kill Jews” and that “all these Jews need to die.”

With files from The Canadian Press