Early on the Shabbat morning of Oct. 27, 2018, Robert Bowers carried out the deadliest act of antisemitism in American history when he murdered 11 worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. That tragedy highlighted the threats of gun violence and antisemitism.
It prompted shock and outrage across the world and united the entire Pittsburgh community, as all elements of that community joined in mourning the heart-wrenching losses of Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger, the 11 victims, and in support for the six people who were wounded, including four police officers.
On Aug. 2, in the final chapter of the months-long proceedings in Pittsburgh’s federal court, a unanimous jury voted to sentence Bowers to death. Earlier, the jury found him guilty of 63 hate-crime and gun-related counts, including 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death. During the trial, prosecutors argued that Bowers deserved the death sentence because he showed no remorse, and because the attack was premeditated and targeted a place of worship.
Bowers’ attorneys did not dispute that he planned and carried out the attack. But they argued that he suffered from life-long mental illness and that he was delusional. The jurors were not convinced. They heard details of the mass shooting from some of the attack survivors and were shown evidence of Bowers’ antisemitism, including multiple posts attacking Jews on a far-right website in the months leading up to his attack.
With the verdict, Bowers became the first person condemned to death by a federal jury since 2019. And despite the nature of Bowers’ crimes, not all elements of the Pittsburgh community — including members of Tree of Life — favored the death penalty. It is expected that Bowers’ lawyers will file appeals in his case, which will take years to resolve.
We join in the sentiment expressed by many who have welcomed a degree of closure for the victims’ families, the survivors and those traumatized by Bowers’ crimes. And we applaud the careful and caring pursuit of justice by the prosecution team and the court.
Finally, we recognize the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh — a remarkable communal resource — which rose to international prominence as it showed leadership and compassion in managing a shaken community’s response to the attack’s many challenges while working tirelessly to build faith, trust and cooperation throughout the Pittsburgh community.
In the end, there is nothing the jury could have done to bring back the lives of the victims. But its verdict recognized the grief of the victims’ families and those around the world who mourn with them. Through its verdict, the jury sent a clear message to violent extremists and haters of all kinds that baseless hate and unprovoked violence are unacceptable and will have consequences.
As we continue to mourn the loss of the victims, we pray that our communities will be spared further hatred, violence and sorrow. ■