Pittsburgh synagogue gunman ‘said he wanted all Jews to die’

Mourners at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue (AP) Credit: AP/Press Association Images

The suspect in the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and told officers afterwards that Jews were committing genocide and that he wanted them all to die, an audio recording and court documents show.

Robert Gregory Bowers killed eight men and three women inside the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday during worship services before a tactical police team tracked him down and shot him, authorities said in state and federal affidavits.

The charging documents contained unreported details on the shooting and the police response.

  • Audio reveals the moment police detain the suspected synagogue attacker

“I just want to kill Jews,” Bowers told an officer, according to one of the documents.

Officials released the names of all 11 victims during a news conference on Sunday, all of them middle-aged or elderly. The victims included a pair of brothers and a husband and wife. The oldest was 97.

Mayor Bill Peduto called it the “darkest day of Pittsburgh’s history”.

Calls began coming in to 911 from the synagogue just before 10am on Saturday.

A mourner is comforted outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Credit: AP

Bowers, 46, shot one of the first two officers to respond in the hand, and the other was wounded by “shrapnel and broken glass”, according to court documents.

A tactical team found Bowers on the third floor, where he shot two officers multiple times, an affidavit said.

Bowers, who authorities said used an AR-15 rifle and three handguns during the attack, told an officer while he was being treated for his injuries “that he wanted all Jews to die and also that they (Jews) were committing genocide to his people”, a Pittsburgh police affidavit said.

Bowers was charged with 11 state counts of criminal homicide, six counts of aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation in what the leader of the Anti-Defamation League called the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

He was also charged in a 29-count federal criminal complaint that included counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs, resulting in death – a federal hate crime – and using a firearm to commit murder.

US attorney general Jeff Sessions said the charges “could lead to the death penalty”.

Bowers, who underwent surgery and remains in hospital, is scheduled for a court appearance on Monday.

His neighbour, Chris Hall, said he never heard or saw anything to indicate that Bowers harboured anti-Semitic views or posed a threat. Bowers kept to himself, he said.

“The most terrifying thing is just how normal he seemed,” Mr Hall said.

A person wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jacket brings flowers to a makeshift memorial Credit: AP

“I wish I knew what was going on inside his head. Maybe something could have been done. I don’t know.”

The victims included Melvin Wax, a retired accountant in his late 80s who was always one of the first to arrive at synagogue and among the last to leave.

“He and I used to, at the end of services, try to tell a joke or two to each other,” said Myron Snider, a fellow member of New Light Congregation, which rented space in the basement of Tree of Life.

“Most of the time they were clean jokes. Most of the time. I won’t say all the time. But most of the time.”

The death toll also included professors, dentists and physicians.

Former Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Law Claus sent an email to former co-workers Sunday asking them to pass his condolences to the family of Jerry Rabinowitz, a 66-year-old personal physician and shooting victim.

Mr Rabinowitz was “truly a trusted confidant and healer,” Mr Claus wrote.

The nation’s latest mass shooting drew condemnation and expressions of sympathy from politicians and religious leaders of all stripes. With the mid-term election just over a week away, it also reignited a longstanding and bitter debate over guns.

US president Donald Trump said on Saturday that the outcome might have been different if the synagogue “had some kind of protection” from an armed guard, while Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor Tom Wolf, who up for re-election, noted that once again “dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way”.

Calling the shooting an “evil anti-Semitic attack,” Mr Trump ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the US to be flown at half-mast as a mark of respect for the victims.

He said he planned to travel to Pittsburgh.

In the city, thousands gathered for a vigil Saturday night. Some blamed the slaughter on the nation’s political climate.

Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light Congregation, said: “When you spew hate speech, people act on it. Very simple. And this is the result. A lot of people dead. Senselessly.”

Little was known about Bowers, who had no apparent criminal record but who is believed to have expressed virulently anti-Semitic views on social media. Authorities said it appears he acted alone.