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Everything we know about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect

The Pittsburgh shooting suspect’s darker, anti-Semitic persona, lived on social media — until Saturday morning.

by Emma Ockerman
Oct 29 2018, 4:22pm

Neighbors and others who knew Robert Bowers described him as outwardly quiet, if not forgettable. The Pittsburgh shooting suspect’s darker, anti-Semitic persona, lived, instead, on social media — until Saturday morning, when he allegedly stormed services at the Tree of Life synagogue and carried out the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.

The 46-year-old Bowers, a resident of Pittsburgh, yelled “Jews must die” before opening fire on the elderly congregants with three pistols and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, killing 11 people and injuring several others. He’s expected to appear in court Monday afternoon on at least 23 state charges, including 11 counts of ethnic intimidation, and 29 federal charges, including hate crimes and use of a firearm to commit murder. Federal prosecutors intend to seek approval to pursue the death penalty, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Pittsburgh. President Donald Trump has also called for the death penalty.

Long before the shooting, the suspect had described Jews as “children of Satan” on Gab, a social networking site used by extremists and white nationalists that’s since been taken offline. He also called Jews and Muslims “filthy” and “evil” and used racial slurs, according to posts seen by the New York Times.

Here’s everything we know about the suspect, who allegedly told a SWAT operator that he “wanted all Jews to die.”

Unknown to his community

The shooting suspect's neighbors told the New York Times he kept to himself. A childhood friend suspected he had a difficult home life growing up but remembers only that he was “in his own little world” and that the two built pipe bombs as pranks when they were kids, according to the Times.

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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. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation via AP)

He didn’t have a criminal record, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, although police in nearby Dormont had been in contact with him in the past for reasons that were still unknown Monday morning. He had one citation on his record from April 2015 for operating a vehicle without proper identification or registration. The suspect told one neighbor he was a truck driver, according to the Times.

What he was known for, neighbors told media outlets, was watching television late at night and not leaving his apartment for days on end. According to his posts on Gab, he was disillusioned with the country and didn’t support Trump, whom he said was a “globalist, not a nationalist.” He was also incensed about the caravan of approximately 4,000 Central American migrants fleeing to the U.S. from countries where they experienced violence.

How he got his guns

The suspect had 21 guns registered in his name, according to the Times, and had legally purchased at least six guns since 1996.

He had an active license to carry firearms, according to CNN, and he posted photos of his collection of Glock pistols to Gab Sept. 29.

As he attempted to flee the synagogue, the suspect exchanged gunfire with police officers and injured two SWAT team members before being taken into custody with multiple gunshot wounds. Trump said there might’ve been fewer fatalities if the synagogue had had an armed guard.

Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, are lamenting how apparently easy it might’ve been for the suspected shooter to get a gun. It’s not clear, however, that anything existed in his criminal or medical history that would’ve blocked his legal right to own a weapon.

Cover image: A police vehicle is posted near the Tree of Life/Or L'Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)