PITTSBURGH -- The man accused of killing 11 people in a synagogue appeared in court Monday, two days after the shootings that set off new waves of fear and acrimony in the United States.
Robert Bowers, 46, had not been publicly seen since the bloodshed at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday morning. Police said Bowers was shot multiple times during the firefight, and he was hospitalized until shortly before his court hearing.
Bowers faces more than two dozen federal charges, including hate crime counts for which prosecutors say they hope to seek the death penalty. He also faces state charges, among them 11 counts of homicide.
During a court appearance just a few miles from the synagogue, Bowers, seated in a wheelchair, was denied bail and only spoke to answer questions posed by the judge. He was discharged from the hospital on Monday morning.
Federal marshals wheeled Bowers, wearing a blue sweatshirt and gray sweatpants, into the courtroom at 1:30 p.m. He appeared coherent and aware of what was going on, answering "Yes" when the judge asked him his name and whether he had requested a public defender because he could not afford his own attorney. When Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell read the charges against him -- including obstruction of exercise of religious belief resulting in death -- and asked if Bowers understood them, he replied, "Yes sir."
It did not appear that any friends or family of Bowers attended. The federal public defender's office did not respond to requests for comment about the case Monday.
Jon Pushinsky, 64, a member of one of the congregations that meets at Tree of Life, came to the court hearing in a show of strength on its behalf.
"It was important to be here to show our congregation remains strong and will stand up, even in the face of evil," he said.
Scott Brady, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, has begun the process of seeking the death penalty in the case, a decision that rests with the attorney general. Speaking after the hearing, Brady told reporters: "Rest assured, we have a team of prosecutors working hard to ensure that justice is done."
Even as the criminal case against Bowers began moving in the court system, people in grief-stricken Pittsburgh prepared to bury those who were killed. Funerals were scheduled to begin today for the victims, who included a 97-year-old woman, a married couple and two brothers. Vigils were also expected to continue.
"We find strength in one another," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in an interview. "This gunman went in to try and kill as many Jews as possible ... We will come through this. And hopefully this feeling of community that we all share today can be channeled into each of us doing our part of rooting out hate."
A grieving Rabbi Jeffrey Myers directly linked Saturday's massacre at his Tree of Life synagogue to the rhetoric of U.S. politicians.
"It starts with speech," Myers said to loud applause at a Sunday-evening vigil attended by two U.S. senators. "It has to start with you as our leaders. My words are not intended as political fodder. I address all equally. Stop the words of hate."
Meanwhile, investigators have pored over Bowers' life, examining his actions leading up to the attack as well as his postings online.
The man authorities say carried out the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history combined a raging online presence with a public persona that often left no impression at all.
Two of Bowers' classmates at Baldwin High School reached by The Washington Post said his photo appeared in the Class of '90 -- about 380 students -- in the yearbook from their junior year there. Neither remembers him.
"Everybody I talked to didn't remember him," said classmate John Korpiel of Wexford, Pa. "He must have been a real loner or something."
The Baldwin-Whitehall School District issued a statement saying Bowers attended Baldwin High School from August 1986 to November 1989. Randal Lutz, the superintendent, said he withdrew from school in 1989 and did not graduate.
Myers, the rabbi, on Monday described the attack. Speaking on NBC's Today Show and separately on CNN, Myers said the morning Shabbat services had started normally when he heard a loud noise. He thought it might be a metal coat rack crashing to the floor -- possibly because an elderly congregant had fallen.
Then he saw three people from another congregation running on the stairs and heard semi-automatic gunfire. He told everyone to "drop to the floor, don't utter a sound, and don't move," he told CNN.
He said he hoped the heavy oak pews in the sanctuary would provide some protection. He then ushered the people in the front pews toward exits or closets where they could hide. But there were eight people in the rear pews of the sanctuary, he said, and when he turned back toward them he heard the gunfire getting louder, and realized it was no longer safe to be there.
He went upstairs to the choir loft, called 911 and stayed on the line for about 20 minutes, he said. He hid in a bathroom that had no lock on it.
"I heard him execute my congregants," he told NBC. "I didn't watch it. I couldn't watch it."
Myers said he was rescued by SWAT officers before Bowers was taken into custody.
"I do live with regret," Myers told CNN. "I wish I could have done more."
Information for this article was contributed by Amy B Wang, Joel Achenbach, Shawn Boburg, Alice Crites, Annie Gowen, Sari Horwitz, Felicia Sonmez, Julie Tate and Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post.
This undated Pennsylvania Department of Transportation photo shows Robert Bowers, the suspect in the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
A Section on 10/30/2018
Print Headline: Massacre suspect appears in court