Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old resident of Pittsburgh, allegedly entered the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday, October 27, and opened fire on parishioners, killing 11. It was the Sabbath, the busiest day of the week. Read on in our Robert Bowers wiki to learn more about the awkward loner who’s charged with carrying out one of the deadliest attacks on the Jewish community in U.S. history.
Robert Bowers Wiki: Isolated Man Who Built Pipe Bombs as a Teen
Before October 27, 2018, only a handful of people could say they really knew Robert Bowers. Now he’s the infamous suspect in what’s being called the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history.
Who is Robert Bowers?
According to those who knew him as a child and went to Baldwin High School with him, he lived in “his own little world.”
Jim Brinksy, a childhood friend of Bowers, said the two grew up together and hung out. For fun, they built pipe bombs and blew up watermelons and trees.
The pair spent a lot of time together, but, Brinsky said, he never met Bowers’ parents. It was probably by design; he got the feeling that Robert Bowers had a difficult home life. Bowers was raised by his mother and then, when she died, his grandparents.
The pair drifted apart in high school. But Brinsky remembers Robert Bowers wore a camouflage jacket and was like “a ghost,” walking the hallways by himself.
It appears as though Bowers was not really all that connected to his classmates. He does not appear in any activities or sports in his 1989 junior-class yearbook. He does not appear in the 1990 yearbook at all. Bowers would have been a senior, but it is not known if he graduated or not.
Bowers’ post-high school life does not seem to have changed much; it appears as though it followed a similar trajectory.
Quiet and Awkward in Real Life
As an adult, Robert Bowers lived in the tony-sounding McAnulty Acres in Baldwin Borough, a middle-class area of Pittsburgh located about 30 minutes south, by car, of the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill.
It was here that Bowers lived with his maternal grandfather, who died in 2014. Bowers told neighbors at the apartment complex that he was a truck driver who needed the apartment mainly for storage purposes.
Those who remember him from the complex recall him mostly as being an awkward loner, who lived alone and lacked basic communication skills. So much so that he seems to have failed to leave much of an impression on those he lived close to.
Kerri Owens, his next-door neighbor, said she forgot his name shortly after meeting him the first time.
“I felt bad because he’d say, ‘Hi, Kerri,’ and I wouldn’t remember his name,” Owens said.
As a truck driver, it wasn’t uncommon for Bowers to leave for work for days at a time. But, when he was home, he was home. It was rare for Bowers to go out.
Chris Hall, 28, Owens’ fiancé, said that when he would come home late from work, he’d sometimes see Bowers sitting in his car, smoking, listening to the radio.
“There was nothing about him, not even a bumper sticker on his car,” Hall said.
Owens said she would hear him sometimes through the wall of her apartment, talking to the landlord when he’d visit the office to drop off his rent money—in cash. But otherwise, he had no guests. And since his grandfather died, he lived alone.
He could be heard watching TV late into the night and used a post office box instead of the complex mailboxes. Other than being a lonely bachelor, nothing about the way he acted gave anyone cause for concern. And, Owens said, their conversations never went beyond pleasantries.
“I don’t know if he had any friends, anywhere,” Hall said.
He did own guns, though. Bowers had 21 guns registered in his name, including the AR-15-style assault rifle and three handguns authorities say he used to carry out the Tree of Life massacre.
Rabid Anti-Semite Online
There are two sides to Robert Bowers. In real life, he’s an awkward loner; online, though, he confidently posts anti-immigrant, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
In January, he opened an account with Gab, an alternative version of Twitter.
Why Gab? It bills itself as upholding free speech. Meaning in theory, you could say anything you liked. It was popular with white supremacists, white nationalists, and others who have been booted off mainstream social media sites. Since the shooting, however, Gab has been taken off line.
It was here that Bowers found like-minded individuals he could share his anti-Jewish sentiment and conspiracy theories with.
Bowers was known to the Gab community as One Dingo, or @onedingo. In his bio, Bowers wrote, “jews are the children of satan. (john 8:44) — —- the lord jesus christ is come in the flesh.”
Not surprisingly, Bowers would regularly post or repost anti-immigrant thoughts and memes that denied the Holocaust.
Bowers also reposted anti-Jewish content that alleged Jews control the U.S. On one doctored image, no longer available online, of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the gate read, “Lies Make Money.” The real gate reads, “Work Sets You Free.”
Bowers reposted another: “Open you [sic] Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”
Bowers also directed his anger at President Trump. He accused Trump of not doing enough to achieve his political goals. In the days leading up to the shooting, Bowers wrote, “Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist. There is no #MAGA as long as there is a k*** infestation.”
Later that same day, Bowers added, “amazing amount of division on gab today. glad the overwhelming jew problem has been solved so we can now fight with each other.”
In yet another post, Bowers wrote about President Trump, “For the record, I did not vote for him nor have I owned, worn or even touched a maga hat.”
A registered voter, Bowers says he is neither Democrat nor Republican, but rather unaffiliated.
The Tree of Life Synagogue Massacre
In the early morning hours of October 27, 2018, minutes before the shooting, Bowers took to Gab, posting: “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 is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a non-profit group that helps refugees settle in their adopted countries.
Here’s how the events are alleged to have unfolded.
Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue, reportedly armed with a Colt AR-15 assault rifle and three Glock .357 handguns. He yelled, “All Jews must die!” He then opened fire. Some ran, others hid.
Allegheny County 911 started to receive the first calls about the shooting.
“Active shooter,” the dispatcher called out to emergency personnel. “Tree of Life Synagogue. 5898 Wilkins Ave. There is an active shooter in the building. They are being attacked. There is gunfire. Caller is going to be on the third floor. One person down so far.”
Michael Eisenberg, the former president of the synagogue, said that they usually conduct a children’s class on the third floor but it was canceled the day of the attack.
Instead, according to the Associated Press, the shooting started during a bris, a baby naming ceremony.
BREAKING: Pennsylvania attorney general says ‘shooter claimed innocent lives’ at a baby naming ceremony.
— The Associated Press (@AP) October 27, 2018
Others have said the shooting occurred during Shabbat services.
An officer reported police were taking gunfire.
“We’re under fire, we’re under fire,” he said. “He’s got an automatic weapon, he’s firing at us from the synagogue.”
Dispatchers called for all available units to respond to the shooting.
Officers at the Tree of Life Synagogue reported that Bowers continued to fire at them.
“We are pinned down by gunfire,” an officer said. “He is firing out the front the building with an automatic weapon.”
Bowers was outside the building, but retreated back inside after police returned his fire.
Officers reported they had not heard any gunfire since the first exchange.
Police set up a perimeter and SWAT began to arrive.
Members of SWAT entered the synagogue and moved through the building. They saw spent magazines and the bodies of 11 people who had been killed.
SWAT teams reached the third floor of the synagogue and encountered Bowers.
He opened fire on them, and SWAT returned fire.
Two SWAT members were hit, one critically. Both were taken out as the gunfire raged on.
An officer reported that they were now talking with the suspect.
“Spontaneous negotiations ongoing, effort to get him out, we’re not going in.”
It was then that sources say the shooter gave them his name and age: Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin Borough.
Bowers surrendered, crawled toward officers.
“Suspect is crawling, he’s injured, SWAT is telling him to continue to crawl at this time,” an officer reported. “Suspect is talking about [how] all these Jews need to die.”
Bowers told officers, “They’re committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews.”
Injured Robert Bowers was taken into custody and to a hospital. Staff at Allegheny General Hospital said the seemingly unrepentant Bowers repeatedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs as Jewish medics treated him.
The Mass Shooting Aftermath
Robert Bowers killed 11 people and injured six others, according to police. It is considered the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.
The mass shooting also highlights the rise in hate crimes in America. Statics from the FBI show that in 2016, more than one in five hate crimes were the result of religious bias. Of those, 1,538—more than half—were anti-Semitic.
The day before the shooting took place, federal authorities had arrested a Florida resident named Cesar Sayoc Jr., on charges of sending mail bombs to prominent Democrats and critics of President Trump.
Like Bowers, Sayoc also posted spiteful, violent messages, both online and on stickers attached to the side windows of his white van.
U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said federal prosecutors would be seeking approval to pursue the death penalty.
Bowers made a brief appearance in court on Monday, October 29, and is being held without bail.
In all, Bowers faces 29 charges, including 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and multiple counts of two hate crimes: obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer.
Tree of Life Synagogue Releases Names of Victims
In the days following the massacre, the Tree of Life Synagogue released the names of the victims.
Those killed were: Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal 54; husband and wife Bernice Simon, 84 and Sylvan Simon, 86; Melvin Wax, 88; and Irving Younger, 69.
Funerals for the 11 slain began on Tuesday, October 30, 2018.