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Prosecutors rest case in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial, defense calls no witnesses

A sign on the side of a synagogue that says Tree of Life or L'Simcha and in Hebrew above it.
Gene J. Puskar
The signage on the dormant landmark Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood is framed in spring foliage on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.

Andrea Wedner lay on the floor next to her 97-year-old mother Rose Mallinger on Oct. 27, 2018.

"Stay quiet, stay quiet," she whispered. She was on the phone with 911 dispatch during the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, she testified in court Wednesday — the 11th day of the trial of Robert Bowers who has been accused of killing 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Prosecutors rested their case after her testimony, and the defense declined to call any of their own witnesses.

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A few minutes before Wedner made that call to 911, a shooter had entered the chapel where Wedner had been attending religious services with her mother to worship for the past six years. It was the synagogue where she had grown up worshiping and the same chapel where she had been married. The seat in the third row from the back was worn, she said, because that's the spot where they always sat.

"Please hurry, I'm scared," Wedner said to the 911 operator.

The shooter had already shot Cecil Rosenthal, the body of whom Wedner could see on the floor, as she lay there. Wedner had heard Bernice Simon scream out that her husband, Sylvan, had been shot in the back.

"Shh, shh. Stay quiet, stay quiet," Wedner could be heard on the 911 call, begging her mother again. Her mother's mind was still sharp at 97, she said, even if her body was starting to wear down.

Wedner had seen the shooter, had looked at him and seen him clearly in the back of the chapel, before hitting the floor. There were many things she remembered from that day and some she didn't. She remembered what he looked like.

Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi that morning, had told them to get on the floor, which is where she and her mother had stayed. Mallinger, who walked with a cane, was in no position to run out, and Wedner didn't know where the shooter went after he left the chapel.

Prosecutors played the 911 phone call with Wedner on Wednesday as their final piece of evidence in the guilt phase of the trial. But Wedner asked that they not play the phone call while she was in the courtroom.

As the 911 call continued, there was a short period of silence as they lay there, then the sound of a woman screaming. Loud screaming that didn't stop.

"I saw my right arm get blown open in two places," Wedner testified. "I looked at it as I felt it, and it looked like shredded raw meat."

Wedner fell to the floor and hoped that the shooter would think she was dead. She thought about her two-year-old granddaughter and wondered if she would ever see her again.

Wedner didn't want to be in the room when the court played the 911 call, she said, because she didn't want to have to hear the sound of her voice, trying to comfort her mother on the floor, whose breathing had become labored and whose pulse had become faint.

Mallinger was one of the 11 Jewish worshipers who didn’t survive that day.

Closing arguments in the case will take place tomorrow before the case is sent to the jury for deliberation.

Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.