What to know as Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting trial begins

Nearly four-and-a-half years after a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue took the lives of 11 people, the trial for the accused gunman is slated to begin Tuesday morning.

After about a month of questioning more than 200 potential jurors, 12 were selected and six were chosen as alternates for the trial, which began Tuesday morning.

Here’s what to know as the trial begins.

11 people were killed

Robert Gregory Bowers, who’s now 50, allegedly shot and killed 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue located in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018. Seven others were injured, including officers who shot back at the gunman.

The youngest of the victims was 54-year-old David Rosenthal, while the oldest was Rose Mallinger, who was 97 years old. The nine other victims — Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger — were 65 or older.

According to indictment documents, Bowers was armed with three Glock .357 handguns and a Colt AR-15 rifle when he entered the synagogue.

Accused gunman faces 63 charges

Bowers faces 63 charges, including 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death and 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death.

Local, state and federal officials labeled the shooting an antisemitic attack; police sources said at the time that the gunman shouted, “All Jews must die” as he began shooting.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said at the time that the shooting was the deadliest attack carried out against Jewish people in U.S. history. Prosecutors have said that the accused gunman had made antisemitic comments posted to online forums.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Bowers, a move that many of the families of the victims support.

His attorneys offered a deal for Bowers to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole, but prosecutors turned it down. He is now pleading not guilty.

How officials are combating antisemitism

As jury selection for the trial began last month, local and federal officials have announced that they are monitoring hate threats against Jewish people that have ticked up since the trial proceedings began.

Shawn Brokos, director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said at a press conference earlier this month officials were monitoring “general chatter in support of the defendant … and his hateful vitriol” online earlier this month. She said synagogues in the area have received security improvements and said no threats had been made as of May 12.

“We’d much rather be in a proactive stance and out in front of any potential threats,” she said.

According to the ADL, antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in 2022 at 3,697 reported incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism.

President Biden last week released a new plan to combat the rise in antisemitism. He said that the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism will demonstrate that “in America, evil will not win, hate will not prevail” and that the “venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time.”

“Silence is complicity,” Biden said.

The Associated Press contributed.

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