U.S. to seek death penalty for accused Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

FILE PHOTO: Flowers and other items have been left as memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue following last Saturday's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a Pennsylvania man accused of bursting into a Pittsburgh synagogue last year with a semi-automatic rifle and shooting 11 people to death, according to court papers filed on Monday.

Robert Bowers, 46, shouted “all Jews must die” as he fired on congregants gathered for Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, authorities said.

Bowers, who is from a Pittsburgh suburb, has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to a 63-count indictment and is awaiting trial though a trial date has not been set. The charges include using a firearm to commit murder and obstruction of free exercise of religious belief resulting in death, the court filing said.

“Robert Bowers expressed hatred and contempt toward members of the Jewish faith and his animus toward members of the Jewish faith played a role in the killings,” prosecutors said.

The massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue was the deadliest attack ever on Jewish Americans in the United States.

The synagogue is a fixture in Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, which is home to one of the largest and oldest Jewish populations in the United States.

Bowers targeted that location “to maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes and instill fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities,” prosecutors said in court papers.

An attorney for Bowers, death penalty specialist Judy Clarke, did not return calls or an email seeking comment.

FILE PHOTO: The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

MULTIPLE CONGREGATIONS

The Tree of Life synagogue hosted multiple Jewish congregations.

Dor Hadash, one of the congregations that was attacked and whose name means New Generation in English, expressed disappointment in the decision to seek the death penalty.

Instead, attorneys for Bowers and federal prosecutors should have reached a plea agreement that would see him receive a life prison sentence, Dor Hadash said in a statement.

“It would have prevented the attacker from getting the attention and publicity that will inevitably come with a trial, and eliminated any possibility of further trauma that could result from a trial and protracted appeals,” it said.

Separately, a spokesman for Tree of Life said in an email the congregation “does not have a statement on this matter; we have confidence that justice will be served.”

Among those killed were a 97-year-old woman and a married couple in their 80s. Two civilians and five police officers were wounded before the gunman, who was armed with an assault-style rifle and three handguns, was shot by police at the synagogue and surrendered. He has been held in jail since then.

The mass shooting followed a rise in the number of hate crimes and the number of hate groups in the United States, according to separate reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Shooting triggers lockdowns, then locked arms in Pittsburgh community

Mourners attend a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – The gunshots that tore through a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday first triggered lockdowns in houses of worship across the city. Then they brought forth an outpouring of unity and support.

Following the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the United States, residents rushed to provide comfort, give blood, organize vigils and bring therapy dogs to a Jewish community center.

Flowers and candles are placed outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday's shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

Flowers and candles are placed outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday’s shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

The Tree of Life synagogue, where 11 people were killed by a gunman who burst into a morning service, is home to three congregations in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s tight-knit Jewish community.

Word of Saturday’s shooting spread quickly through the community. For some, the news arrived with text messages and phone calls. In corners of the community where cellphones were turned off during the Sabbath, it arrived nearly as quickly by word of mouth.

That was the case at the nearby Chabad congregation, where the service continued but with someone monitoring the door during what is traditionally an open event. One congregant, a chaplain, walked out to pray.

“Community is the greatest asset,” said Rabbi Yisroel Altein of Chabad. “Everybody being here for each other and looking to dispel the dark with the light.”

Erika Strassburger, who represents Tree of Life’s district on Pittsburgh’s City Council, said she was at a political gathering of about 30 people when she heard the news. The group put its plans to canvas the neighborhood for signatures on hold.

Mourners fill a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Mourners fill a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

INCLUSIVITY AND ‘PITTSBURGH LEFT’

Squirrel Hill is known for inclusivity, the late television personality Fred Rogers who attended a church there, and for friendliness, residents said. It is a place where drivers use a “Pittsburgh Left,” yielding to oncoming traffic wanting to turn.

After the shooting, turnout at services across the city swelled. As soon as the Sabbath ended, members of Orthodox congregations and others who had been unable to attend the earlier vigil gathered. They stood outside of Tree of Life, or L’Simcha, and read psalms.

The following day, children attended traditional Sunday school classes at other congregations under the watch of neighborhood police. About 100 clergy, lay leaders and volunteers gathered at the Jewish Community Center to discuss how to move forward and make arrangements for many funerals at the same time. In Judaism, the dead traditionally need to be buried within 24 hours, so other congregations came forward to offer space.

Therapy dogs from Pittsburgh and Youngstown arrive at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh to give comfort to volunteers, families, community members and employees following Saturday's shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jessica Resnick-Ault

Therapy dogs from Pittsburgh and Youngstown arrive at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh to give comfort to volunteers, families, community members and employees following Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jessica Resnick-Ault

After the meeting wrapped up, volunteers brought over a dozen therapy dogs to help console those in pain.

Carnegie Mellon University professor Bill Scherlis, who lives just a few blocks from the synagogue and has been to events there, went to a candlelight vigil nearby on Saturday night that was arranged by high school students and attended by hundreds of people.

When word of the shooting spread, Scherlis said, the streets became “quite suddenly” full of neighbors who came out to stand together arm in arm.

“The spirit is so strongly felt,” he said. “This community response is in sharp contrast to the horror of the events.”

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Chris Prentice; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Man charged with Pittsburgh synagogue massacre due in court

FILE PHOTO: Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

By Jessica Resnick-Ault

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – The man charged with shooting 11 worshipers to death at a Pittsburgh synagogue, marking the deadliest ever attack on America’s Jewish community, was due to make his first court appearance on Monday before a federal judge.

Robert Bowers, 46, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic material online, has been charged with 29 criminal counts, including the violation of U.S. civil rights laws in what federal prosecutors say was a hate crime.

Several of the charges can be punishable by the death penalty.

Bowers is accused of storming into the Tree of Life temple in Squirrel Hill, the heart of Pittsburgh’s close-knit Jewish community, yelling “All Jews must die” as he opened fire on members of three congregations holding Sabbath prayer services there on Saturday morning.

In addition to the 11 mostly elderly worshipers who were killed, six people, including four police officers who confronted the gunman, were wounded before the suspect surrendered. Two of the surviving victims remained hospitalized in critical condition.

“The fact that this attack took place during a worship service makes it even more heinous,” U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said on Sunday at a news conference.

Bowers’ initial appearance before a judge was scheduled for Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Brady said.

About 2,500 people attended an interfaith memorial service for the victims that was held late on Sunday on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

The dead included two brothers in their 50s, David and Cecil Rosenthal, a married couple in their 80s, Sylvan and Bernice Simon, and 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the oldest of the victims.

Another was Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, a family physician who initially escaped the attack only to be killed when he returned to render aid to the wounded, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed column by Pittsburgh carpet salesman Lou Weiss, who knew five of the victims personally.

The killings rocked the Squirrel Hill community, an enclave that encompasses several synagogues and Jewish religious schools, and sparked security alerts at places of worship across the country.

The massacre also took on political overtones as some complained that the confrontational, nationalistic rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump has encouraged right-wing extremists and fed a surge in activity by hate groups.

Trump, who branded Saturday’s shooting an act of pure evil and called on Americans to rise above hatred, was already facing similar criticism after pipe bombs were mailed last week to some of his most prominent political adversaries. The targets, mostly Democrats, included former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Cesar Sayoc, 56, a strip club DJ and part-time pizza delivery man whose van was pasted with pro-Trump images and slogans disparaging the political left, was arrested in the pipe bomb case on Friday and faced his first court appearance on Monday in Florida.

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Japan begins clean-up after typhoon kills 11; major airport closed

Vehicles damaged by Typhoon Jebi are seen in Kobe, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 5, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Kaori Kaneko

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan began on Wednesday to clean up after a powerful typhoon killed 11 people, injured hundreds and stranded thousands at a flooded airport, though when the airport in an industrial and tourist hub might reopen was not clear.

Typhoon Jebi, or “swallow” in Korean, was briefly a super typhoon and was the most powerful storm to hit Japan in 25 years. It came after months of heavy rain, landslides, floods and record-breaking heat that killed hundreds of people this summer.

Passengers stranded at Kansai International Airport due to powerful typhoon Jebi queue outside the airport as they wait for the arrival of a special bus service to transport them out of the area, in Izumisato, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 5, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Passengers stranded at Kansai International Airport due to powerful typhoon Jebi queue outside the airport as they wait for the arrival of a special bus service to transport them out of the area, in Izumisato, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 5, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

About 3,000 tourists were stuck overnight at Kansai Airport in western Japan, an important hub for companies exporting semiconductors built on reclaimed land on a bay near Osaka and connected to the mainland by a bridge that was damaged when a tanker slammed into it during the storm.

But by afternoon many people had been rescued by bus or ferried by ship from the airport, where puddles still stood on the main runway after it was inundated on Tuesday.

“More than anything else, I really want to take a bath,” one woman told NHK public television.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday afternoon about 470 people were injured. It was uncertain when the airport would reopen and some roads and train lines in the affected areas were still closed, he said.

But the number of households without power had been roughly halved to 530,000.

“The government will continue to do everything possible to tackle these issues with utmost urgency,” Suga told a news conference earlier.

A bridge connecting Kansai airport, damaged by crashing with a 2,591-tonne tanker, which is sent by strong wind caused by Typhoon Jebi, is seen in Izumisano, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 5, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

A bridge connecting Kansai airport, damaged by crashing with a 2,591-tonne tanker, which is sent by strong wind caused by Typhoon Jebi, is seen in Izumisano, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 5, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Japan’s JXTG Nippon Oil Energy Corp shut at least one refining units at its 135,000 barrels-per-day Sakai refinery in Osaka due to typhoon damage to part of the cooling tower, the trade ministry said.

Many chip plants operate in the Kansai region. Toshiba Memory, the world’s second-largest maker of flash memory chips, was monitoring developments closely and may need to ship products from other airports if Kansai remains closed, a spokeswoman said.

She said the company was not expecting a major impact because its plant in Yokkaichi in central Japan had not been affected by the typhoon.

It could take several days to a week to reopen Kansai airport depending on the damage, the Yomiuri newspaper quoted an unidentified person in the airline industry as saying.

Winds that in many places gusted to the highest ever recorded in Japan, according to the Japanese Meteorological Agency, left a swathe of damage, with fruit and vegetables, many about to be harvested, hit especially hard.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was criticized in July for an initially slow response to devastating floods that month, posted updates on the rescue efforts at Kansai.

Jebi’s course brought it close to parts of western Japan hit by rains and flooding in July that killed more than 200 people, but most of the damage this time appeared to be from the wind.

(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori, Makiko Yamazaki, Chang-Ran Kim, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)