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Accused Gunman In Squirrel Hill Shooting Makes First Court Appearance

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
The exterior of the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh, where Robert Bowers was arraigned Monday.

Robert Bowers, the man accused of killing 11 Jewish congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday, appeared for the first time in a federal courtroom -- seated in a wheelchair, wearing a blue sweatshirt and handcuffs.

In a brief and formulaic proceeding, federal Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell read the charges to Bowers and asked if he understood them. Speaking in a clear voice, Bowers said he did. Mitchell then scheduled a preliminary hearing, at which prosecutors will lay out the evidence for those charges, on Thursday morning.

In the meantime, Bowers is being held without bond.

Credit Pennsylvania Department of Transportation / via AP
via AP
Pictured is Robert Bowers, the accused gunman in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Squirrel Hill that left 11 dead and six others injured.

"Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims’ families and with the community," said U.S. Attorney Scott Brady after the hearing. "Rest assured we have a team of prosecutors working hard to ensure that justice is done."

Bowers faces 29 federal counts, which were filed less than 12 hours after Saturday's shooting. The charges include firearms-related offenses and 11 counts of fatally preventing the exercise of religious belief -- one for each of the victims who were killed. Some of the offenses could carry the death penalty.

Six other people were wounded Saturday, including four police officers responding to the shooting. Bowers himself was discharged from the hospital this morning after being treated for gunshot wounds.

Bowers also faces charges at the state level. The Allegheny County District Attorney's office filed charges that include multiple charges of homicide, aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation.

Judge Mitchell said a public defender would be appointed to Bowers, who was represented Monday by two attorneys in the federal public defender’s office.

Hate crimes are not always easy to prosecute, but in an affidavit filed with the complaint, FBI Special Agent Brian Collins said that Bowers repeatedly made anti-Semitic pronouncements during and after the shooting.

"During the course of his deadly assault ... and simultaneously with his gunfight with responding officers, Bowers made statements evincing an animus towards people of the Jewish faith. For example, Bowers commented to one law enforcement officer, in substance, "They're committing genocide to my people I just want to kill Jews."

Bowers repeated comments regarding genocide, his desire to kill Jewish people, and that Jewish people needed to die."