Gunman Found Guilty in the Deadliest Attack on Jewish Community in US History

by Andrew Wright
Synagogue gunman

A truck driver filled with hatred towards Jews was declared guilty on Friday for forcefully entering a Pittsburgh synagogue and indiscriminately shooting congregants, resulting in the deaths of 11 innocent people. This act of antisemitic terror, acknowledged by the defendant’s own lawyers at the trial’s commencement, could potentially lead to the imposition of the death penalty.

The conviction was expected, given that Robert Bowers’ attorneys admitted his culpability in the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue, which occurred on October 27, 2018. This tragic incident marked the most lethal assault on the Jewish community in American history. The jury will now determine whether the 50-year-old should be sentenced to death or receive life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The penalty phase of the federal trial is projected to span several weeks.

Bowers faced a total of 63 criminal charges, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of religious freedom resulting in death. While his defense team proposed a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence, prosecutors rejected this offer and opted to proceed with the trial, seeking the death penalty. The majority of the victims’ families expressed their support for this decision.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Congregation, who survived the attack, conveyed his gratitude for reaching this day. In a written statement, he expressed his thanks to God, the law enforcement officers who risked their lives to rescue him, and the U.S. Attorney who defended his right to pray in court.

The jury deliberated for approximately five hours over two days before delivering the verdict. Bowers, dressed in a dark sweater and blue shirt, displayed minimal reaction, as has been characteristic of his demeanor throughout the trial. Several survivors and relatives of the deceased were present in the courtroom, silently bearing witness to the proceedings. The announcement of “guilty” repeated by the judge numerous times prompted a few stifled sobs from the gallery.

Prosecutor Mary Hahn asserted that Bowers had transformed a sacred place of worship into a “hunting ground,” singling out his victims based on their religious affiliation. Reading the names of each of the 11 individuals he had killed, Hahn urged the jury to “hold this defendant accountable” and “to hold him accountable for those who cannot testify.”

Bowers, armed with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, also injured seven individuals, including five police officers who responded to the scene.

During the trial, prosecutors presented substantial evidence demonstrating Bowers’ deep-rooted animosity towards Jews and immigrants. Over the course of 11 days of testimony, the jury learned that Bowers had actively shared, posted, or liked antisemitic and white supremacist content on Gab, a social media platform favored by far-right groups. He also expressed admiration for Hitler and the Holocaust. Bowers had explicitly stated to the police that “all these Jews need to die,” according to Hahn.

Survivors recounted the terror they experienced that day, including one woman who described being shot in the arm and then discovering that her 97-year-old mother had been shot and killed right beside her. The final witness of the trial, Andrea Wedner, tearfully shared her anguish, touching her mother’s lifeless body and crying out “Mommy” before SWAT officers led her to safety.

Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the Tree of Life Congregation, expressed her hope that the verdict would offer survivors and victims’ family members some degree of solace and alleviate their pain, even if only slightly.

With Bowers’ guilt established, survivors and family members of the deceased victims are expected to provide the jury with testimonies detailing the profound impact of his crimes. The penalty phase of the trial is set to commence on June 26.

Bowers’ defense team did not present a case during the guilt stage, indicating that their efforts would be focused on attempting to spare his life. They plan to introduce evidence of Bowers’ schizophrenia, epilepsy, and cognitive impairments. Defense lawyer Judy Clarke also aimed to cast doubt on Bowers’ motive, suggesting to the jurors that his rampage was not driven by religious hatred, but rather by his delusional belief that Jews were facilitating a genocide by aiding refugees in settling in the United States.

The three congregations that shared the synagogue building, Dor Hadash, New Light, and Tree of Life, have consistently spoken out against antisemitism and other forms of bigotry since the attack. The Tree of Life congregation is presently working on a comprehensive plan to transform the synagogue building, which has remained closed since the shootings, into a complex encompassing a sanctuary, museum, memorial, and an anti-antisemitism center.

The trial took place three years after President Joe Biden pledged during his 2020 campaign to work towards abolishing the death penalty at the federal level and in states that still employ it. While his attorney general, Merrick Garland, temporarily halted executions to review policies and procedures, federal prosecutors remain committed to vigorously upholding previously issued death sentences and, in certain cases, pursuing the death penalty during trials for eligible crimes, such as Bowers’ case.

This article includes reporting from Big Big News reporter Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Support for Big Big News’ religion coverage is provided through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP bears sole responsibility for this content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Synagogue gunman

Q: What was the outcome of the trial for the Pittsburgh synagogue gunman?

A: The gunman was found guilty on all 63 criminal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death. The guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion given the defendant’s own lawyers conceded his responsibility for the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

Q: What penalties could the gunman face?

A: The jury will now decide whether the 50-year-old gunman should be sentenced to death row or receive life in prison without parole. The federal trial will enter a penalty phase expected to last several weeks, during which the jury will consider the appropriate punishment.

Q: Did the gunman’s defense team present any defense during the trial?

A: No, the defense team did not mount a defense during the guilt stage of the trial. They indicated that their efforts would be focused on attempting to save the gunman’s life during the penalty phase. They plan to introduce evidence of the gunman’s schizophrenia, epilepsy, and brain impairments.

Q: What evidence was presented to demonstrate the gunman’s motivation and beliefs?

A: Prosecutors presented evidence showing the gunman’s deep-seated animosity towards Jews and immigrants. Over the course of the trial, jurors learned that he extensively shared or liked antisemitic and white supremacist content on the social media platform Gab. He expressed admiration for Hitler and the Holocaust and explicitly stated to the police that “all these Jews need to die.”

Q: What impact did the attack have on the survivors and victims’ families?

A: Survivors testified about the terror they experienced during the attack, recounting their injuries and the loss of loved ones. The devastating impact of the gunman’s crimes will be further detailed by survivors and family members of the deceased during the penalty phase of the trial, where they will have an opportunity to share their experiences and seek justice for their loved ones.

Q: Is there any information about the broader response to the attack and plans for the future?

A: The three congregations that shared the synagogue building have consistently spoken out against antisemitism and bigotry since the attack. The Tree of Life Congregation is working on a plan to transform the synagogue building into a complex that includes a sanctuary, museum, memorial, and center for fighting antisemitism. The goal is to create a space that promotes healing and awareness.

More about Synagogue gunman

You may also like


historybuff23 June 16, 2023 - 7:24 pm

It’s a dark day in American history when we see such an act of antisemitic terror. We must stand together against hatred and bigotry. May the victims rest in peace and their families find solace in the pursuit of justice.

bookworm123 June 17, 2023 - 5:10 am

Wow, this is such a sad and terrifying story. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. It’s important that justice is served and that hate crimes like this are condemned. Let’s hope this verdict brings some closure and healing.

soccerfanatic June 17, 2023 - 6:27 am

This is why we need stricter gun control laws. It’s devastating to see innocent lives lost in such a hate-filled attack. We must do better as a society to prevent such tragedies from happening again.

reader11 June 17, 2023 - 7:55 am

pittsburgh synogoge gunman iz finally found guilty!! itz a good day for justice and holding peepol accountable. hope he getz the death penalty for this horrific attack on the jewish community!

optimistdreamer June 17, 2023 - 4:47 pm

It’s heartwarming to see the strength and resilience of the survivors and their commitment to fighting antisemitism. Let’s hope that through education and understanding, we can create a world where such acts of violence are unimaginable.


Leave a Comment


BNB – Big Big News is a news portal that offers the latest news from around the world. BNB – Big Big News focuses on providing readers with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. and abroad, covering a wide range of topics, including politics, sports, entertainment, business, health, and more.

Editors' Picks

Latest News

© 2023 BBN – Big Big News