Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting suspect Robert Bowers appears in federal court in a wheelchair

By Steve Pope | October 29, 2018

The man accused in Saturday’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagoue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people and injured six, made his first appearance in federal court Monday in a wheelchair.

Amid a heavy security presence Bowers, who was wearing a blue sweatshirt and sweatpants, was wheeled into the courtroom by a deputy U.S. Marshal handcuffed in a wheelchair. This was his first court appearance and U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell advised him of the charges he faces and appointed the Federal Public Defender’s Office to represent him.

His handcuffs were removed for just enough time for Bowers to sign several documents.

Robert-Bowers-mugshot-GENERIC-STOCK-1540737527 (2)
Robert Bowers

During the brief hearing that lasted about 10 minutes Judge Mitchell asked Bowers if he wanted the charges read to him, to which Bowers replied “no sir.” Bowers also declined Judge Mitchell’s offer to have the statutory penalties read to him.

Federal prosecutors previously filed a request for pretrial detention alleging Bowers was both a flight risk and danger to the community.  Bowers waived his right to have a detention hearing on the request, so he will remain in custody.  He was taken to the Allegheny County Jail after the hearing concluded.

Bowers next court appearance is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. when he will appear for a preliminary hearing. During that hearing federal prosecutors will have to prove that there is sufficient evidence to support the filing of charges against Bowers.

According to a federal criminal complaint filed late Saturday, Bowers faces 11 counts each of obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence, four counts of obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer, and three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

Following Monday’s hearing U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady told reporters that prosecutors are prepared for Thursday’s hearing saying, “At that time, we will have the opportunity to present evidence demonstrating that Robert Bowers murdered 11 people who were exercising their religious beliefs, and that he shot or injured six others, four of whom were police officers responding to the shooting. Our investigation of these hate crimes continues. Under the law, we must present this case to a federal grand jury within 30 days of today.”

In a statement Saturday Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that Bowers could face the death penalty.  “These alleged crimes are reprehensible and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation.  Accordingly, the Department of Justice will file hate crimes and other criminal charges against the defendant, including charges that could lead to the death penalty.”

Bowers also faces 11 counts of homicide, six counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation in state court. A criminal complaint in that case was filed early Sunday morning. No court dates have been scheduled in that case.

Allegheny County Human Relations Commission Chairperson Daniel A. Styche released the following statement regarding the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in the City of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood:

 “We are deeply saddened by the tragic event that took place on Saturday morning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families that have been forever affected by this tragedy. “Senseless violence such as this can no longer be tolerated, and to act with such hatred over religious differences is unforgiveable. Diversity in society should be cherished as one of our greatest strengths, not to be looked upon with such distrain and animosity.”

Steve Pope can be contacted at



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