PITTSBURGH – The man accused of having murdered 11 members in a hate-filled attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue appeared in court for the first time on Monday.
Robert Bowers appeared before Judge Robert C. Mitchell in the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh in a wheelchair, handcuffed and dressed in a blue sweatshirt and gray sweatpants, surrounded by marshals from the United States. The judge gave an overview of the 29 criminal charges against him and asked him if he understood them. "Yes," he replied.
The charge included obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs – a hate crime, which can carry the death penalty, a phrase that the federal authorities said they intended to pursue on Sunday. He is also faced with state costs.
Mr. Bowers was flanked by two public defenders who represented him and refused that the judge would read the full sentence and penalties if he were found guilty. He was ordered without bail and his next hearing was scheduled for Thursday.
Two members of Dor Hadash, one of the municipalities at Tree of Life who lost a member on Saturday, were on the first row of the hearing. "It was not the face of rogue states that I thought I saw," Jon Pushinks said.
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Earlier on Monday, two Jewish groups called on President Trump to return to what they said: inflammatory rhetoric that seemed to encourage the most radical aspects of American society.
Saturday's attack in the Synagogue Tree of Life ended when the shooter, identified by the authorities as Robert Bowers, surrendered to police officers while he was wounded and crawled on his knees. He "wanted all Jews to die," he told a SWAT officer, the authorities said, because the Jews "committed a genocide against his people."
The victims of the attack, beloved members of one of the vital Jewish communities in the country, were mostly in the years & # 39; 70 and & # 39; 80.
Mr. Trump, who called for unity on the day of the shooting and later ordered to fly with half staff, said he would travel to Pittsburgh. But the Pittsburgh chapter of the progressive Jewish group, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, which focuses on social justice in the United States, said in a open letter to Mr. Trump that he "was not welcome in Pittsburgh until you completely condemn white nationalism."
The letter, which had 26,000 signatures on Monday morning, said that Mr. Trump's language had given confidence to white nationalists.
"Over the past three years, your words and your policies have encouraged a growing white nationalist movement," the letter said. "You called the killer the evil, but the violence of yesterday is the direct highlight of your influence."
The president of the board of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action is Alexander Soros. He is the son of George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and major donor of Democratic candidates, who is Jewish and survived the Nazi occupation in Hungary.
Soros is repeatedly quoted in right-wing conspiracy theories and was the target of the wave of mailed pipe bombs from last week. Mr. Trump has claimed Soros paid for "rude elevatorcries" to protest against the Supreme Court judge, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, asked on Twitter as Mr. Soros is behind the migrating caravan.
Another progressive Jewish group, IfNotNow, invited Americans to a nationwide call this week, saying that the Pittsburgh attack was "not an isolated incident," and that now, a week ahead of midterm elections, "the time has come to act. ".
But other people in the Jewish community in Pittsburgh said they would be happy to visit Mr. Trump, including Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Synagogue Tree of Life.
"The President of the United States is always welcome," said Rabbi Myers on CNN Monday. "I am a citizen, he is my president, he is certainly welcome."
Mr. Bowers, a 46-year-old with no criminal record whose social media feed was full of anti-semitic rations, is accused of committing a bloodbath in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, the heart of Jewish life in Pittsburgh, where about a quarter of the Jewish households in the city.
On Monday, the survivors were still in the clean with the horror of what was happening. Until two months ago, Rabbi Myers seldom carried his phone on the Sabbath, the holiest day of the week when some Jews avoided technology and electronics. But in August, a security expert told him that "it was a different world" and that he had to have his phone in the neighborhood.
Because of that training, the rabbi was the first to call the police on Saturday. He stayed on the phone for twenty minutes until SWAT had evacuated him.
"I've learned some important things from him," Rabbi Myers said about the safety training in August, in a Monday interview about Good Morning America & # 39; from ABC. He said: 'Rabbi, it is a different world and you have to wear it. "I am so grateful for his presence and for teaching me."
Rabbi Myers said that about five minutes after the Saturday service started at 9.45 am, he heard a loud noise in the lobby on the floor below. It sounded like a coat rack had fallen, he remembered. But then there was a loud bang.
"It was clear to me," he said, "that it was not the sound of a piece of metal that fell down." He added: "It was quick fire."
Rabbi Myers said that there were about twelve people in the sanctuary when the fire started, and he screamed that everyone should fall to the floor and remain silent. He began evacuating the congregation members, starting with a handful of people at the front of the sanctuary. He has brought them to safety. There were still eight people in the room, all at the back, but it was too late to help them, he said.
The artillery became louder. The shooter approached the sanctuary.
"There was no way to come back," he said.
Seven of the eight people were killed, he said. The person who survived, a woman, was injured but expected to live.
"I live with that, the sounds that remain in my head for the rest of my life", said Rabbi Myers on CNN. "I have a church to take care of, I have families who need me, I have funerals to plan."
On Sunday night, the Justice Department said the US attorney from Pennsylvania's western district, Scott Brady, had started the approval process to end the death sentence against Mr. Bowers to look for. The final decision was with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
All cases of death penalty go through the Department of Capital Affairs of the Ministry of Justice, which was established in 1998 to help the Prosecutor General decide when the death penalty should be used.
The approximately six prosecutors of the section have worked with US law firms on prosecutions such as those of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, and Dylann S. Roof, who killed nine people in an African American church in South Carolina.