Pittsburgh police testify about coming face-to-face with Robert Bowers

PITTSBURGH — Day Four of the trial against Robert Bowers, the man accused of shooting and killing 11 worshippers at a Squirrel Hill synagogue, continued with more witnesses taking the stand.

Officer Dan Mead, who was shot while responding, testified Thursday.


Channel 11 has a sketch artist inside the courtroom | Click here to see photos from throughout the trial

Warning: the details coming out of this trial are difficult to hear and may be upsetting to some.

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health effects from the trial, go to 1027healingpartnership.org to find help resources. As always, call 911 to report threats.

We have a team of reporters inside the courthouse and will have live updates below.

UPDATE 4:41 p.m.: PSP Intelligence Analyst testifies

The fifth witness to testify on Friday was Pamela Browning who works for the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Intelligence Center.

Browning has worked for the center for 20 years as an intelligence analyst.

Part of her day-to-day responsibilities in 2018 was to take requests from different agencies and compile packages together for criminal investigators.

She started compiling the package on Bowers’ social media before getting the request from Pittsburgh police because she was tracking the top stories in the news.

At this time, screengrabs of Bowers’ posts on GAB were shown in court.

The following statements were posted on his social media pages: “Jews are the children of Satan,” and below the dashes, “The Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh.”

Bowers posted this on the morning of the shooting: “I can’t sit by and see my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

He reposted his own post and said “Why hello there you like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us?” underneath.

The 61-page report on Bowers was finalized on the day of the shooting. In the report, it was noted that no prior criminal history was found.

UPDATE 4 p.m.: SWAT Officer explains negotiating with Bowers

The third witness on Friday was Officer Clint Timmons, a member of the Pittsburgh SWAT team who is trained in hostage negotiations.

“As I neared the scene, I heard gunshots,” Timmons said. He noted he was in his patrol uniform and not SWAT gear when he arrived.

“Officer Mead was yelling and clearing injured holding his hand out and you could see the blood,” Timmons recalled. “I asked him, ‘Where are they at?’ and Officer Mead pointed towards the front of the building.”

Timmons said he heard gunfire and believed someone was shooting out of the building as he was looking for other SWAT officers to arrive.

Once he had his SWAT gear on, he wasn’t hearing any more gunfire but there were enough members of SWAT for the team to enter the synagogue.

“It was very quiet, I could smell gunpowder in the air,” Timmons said.

When Timmons got inside the building, he found Rabbi Myers in a small bathroom and escorted him out.

The team searched in many small rooms and basements.

When the SWAT team located Bowers, he was low and crouched down with his gun drawn.

“I advised the person we are not coming in there if he wanted the incident to end and to survive he had to come out to us,” Timmons said.

Timmons then identified Bowers in court. He said he was trying to build a rapport with Bowers, to learn if he had any explosives and to see if he was alone.

The defense asked Timmons about his negotiating skills, saying that in 10 minutes, he got Bowers’ name, where his guns were and why he did it.

“He said he’s had enough and Jews are killing our children and they all need to die,” Timmons said.

The defense then clarified those statements before Timmons was dismissed from the stand.

UPDATE 1:13 p.m.: Officer Mescan recalls encountering Bowers

Mescan is back on the stand after returning from a scheduled lunch break.

He said the team cleared most of the first, second and third floors. Danger to the victims was the priority.

Moments later, they got into a gunfight with the suspect.

Mescan was in the hallway, he said. The gunfire was extremely loud. He was 25 feet away.

The operators (officers) were backing out of the hallway and they were dragging Officer Timothy Matson, who was shot multiple times, Mescan said. They began to pull him around the corner and down the stairs. He had massive injuries to his head and torso and was losing a lot of blood and was in a lot of pain. It was chaotic.

We engaged in a second gun battle with the suspect, Mescan said. We told him to come out and that we are not going in.

At some point, they received intel with Bowers’ name. The operators were repeating the information. SWAT was talking with him to continue to crawl out.

Bowers made angry statements about how “all these Jews must die,” Mescan said. He made some reference to being angry about ‘them killing children.’ He was saying “All these Jews must die.”

The defense asked Mescan questions, one of which was if he actually heard Bowers say “All these Jews need to die,” or if he was repeating what someone else heard.

“I heard it,” Mescan said.

UPDATE 10:23 a.m.: Officer Steve Mescan testifies about finding deceased victims

Officer Steve Mescan of the Pittsburgh SWAT team takes the stand. He is in his 30th year with the police department.

SWAT did not have body cameras in 2018 when the shooting took place.

Mescan said he was at the Zone 1 station, where SWAT is located, on the day of the shooting. He was in the basement getting paperwork when someone yelled that there was something going on in Zone 4.

Our job is to immediately respond to active shooter situations, Mescan said. He grabbed his equipment and proceeded to the synagogue.

A transcript of the radio communication between SWAT officers from that day was played in the courtroom.

Multiple calls came in from people saying they were being attacked. Rapid gunfire could be heard and people said they were hiding.

At least one caller sounded like they may have been shot due to agonal (distressed) breathing.

Mescan said he pulled up to the corner of Murray Avenue and saw police and fire units there. They set up and immediately went into the operation.

They entered and saw three people shot at the bottom of the stairs. One was in the basement. All of the people they encountered were deceased.

They went to the top of the stairs. They didn’t hear any gunshots.

They made physical contact with everyone they encountered.

In some cases, they found people who were alive and gave medical treatment and then evacuated them, he said. The situation was tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.

Mescan was in the main foyer area and helping a woman who had been shot. She was in shock and she was pointing up. He took that as a sign that they should proceed in that direction.

It was a challenge to figure out where everyone was because there were stairs that went to different floors and levels.

Mescan told dispatch how many people were injured and they started to push up to the third floor. When they got to the top of the stairs, they split up. There were multiple rooms and a narrow floor plan. There’s an administrative wing of the synagogue with the library straight back.

At the top of the stairs, they saw a magazine on the stairwell like one they found downstairs, indicating another reload. They didn’t understand why. It indicated someone had been in this direction. No other victims had been found, though.

The court broke for lunch at this time.

UPDATE 9:42 a.m.: Officer Michael Smidga recalls exchanging gunfire with Bowers

Michael Smidga, a Pittsburgh police officer, is the first witness on the stand today. Smidga is in the Army, as well, and had been deployed to Iraq.

He joined the Pittsburgh police force in 2016.

Smidga was partners with Officer Dan Mead on the day of the shooting.

A call came over that there was an active shooter at the synagogue, which is about half a block away from the Zone 4 police station.

Smidga said he’s familiar with the synagogue because of previous security checks at the building. He had seen worshippers there every Saturday and knew there would be people there.

He stood up to go and ran into Mead, who handed him car keys.

Smidga said he parked at Shady and Wilkins Avenues at the corner of the synagogue. Mead was in front of him as they came down the driveway. Smidga explained that Mead “has everything in closest view” and Smidga was covering windows above him.

Smidga said he noticed glass and a blue sedan.

Mead was approaching what Smidga called the “fatal funnel,” the point where everything is funneled into, the point of dominance.

Smidga said when Mead went around the corner, he was startled. Mead sort of jumped backward a bit, he said. The first shot, then you could hear broken glass and a round came flying past my head, Smidga said.

Smidga then heard a succession of gunfire. He said he tried to get Mead out of the way. He was trying to radio that there was an officer down but no one was answering because everyone was on the radio.

Mead had moved back toward the main sanctuary space and Smidga saw another officer come up and help.

Smidga said he was hyperventilating and he felt heat on his neck. He worried that he was bleeding out. Glass had gone through his ear and he had shrapnel in his face.

From the shots he heard, he thought the shooter had a rifle and a pistol.

Smidga said he hit the mulch and then turned to check the windows to make sure there wasn’t another shooter shooting at him.

Smidga was shown a photo in court. He said that yes, he could see through a window. He saw a rifle barrel coming out of the doorway.

“I saw that man over there,” Smidga said, indicating Bowers, with a blue-collared shirt with a blue sweater.

I don’t think he knew I was there, Smidga said. I started to pull up my gun to shoot him and he started to look my way. That’s when I started firing, Smidga said. He fired three times. Smidga wasn’t sure if he hit Bowers.

Bowers returned fire.

Smidga said he was concerned for his safety because he was pinned down. He was using arm and hand signals to fellow officers.

“There were SWAT operators on scene and they were starting to bring a car up Wilkins Avenue with other officers,” he said.

He was able to get to a car and get medical attention for his cuts.

UPDATE 9:01 a.m.

Court is up and waiting for the jury to come in.

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