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Tree of Life, community react to guilty verdict in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial

Robert Bowers was convicted Friday for shooting and killing 11 worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 and could now be sentenced to death.

Bowers’ own lawyers said during court proceedings that he planned and carried out the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

The jury is now tasked with deciding whether he should be sentenced to life in prison without parole or to death.

Court will reconvene on June 26 for the next phase of the trial. WPXI legal Analyst Phil Dilucente said the penalty phase is much more critical for the defense than the last 12 days and that it will likely be a longer period of time because there are so many experts expected to testify.

PITTSBURGH SYNAGOGUE SHOOTING TRIAL: FULL COVERAGE ⇒

Bowers, who lived in Baldwin and worked as a truck driver, was found guilty of all 63 criminal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death. The defense had offered a guilty plea in return for a life sentence, but prosecutors refused.

Reactions to the verdict began pouring in as soon as they were read aloud in court. They can be found below and will be updated as they continue to come in:

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Congregation:

Myers, who survived the attack, praised God and thanked law enforcement and the U.S. attorneys who led the prosecution: “I am grateful to God for getting us to this day. And I am thankful for the law enforcement who ran into danger to rescue me, and the U.S. Attorney who stood up in court to defend my right to pray. Today I’m focused on being with my congregation and praying, singing and clapping in praise of God as we do each Shabbat. In the face of the horror of our community has experienced, I can think of no better response than practicing my Jewish faith and leading worship.”

Carole Zawatsky, CEO of Tree of Life:

Zawatsky offered words of support for survivors and the families of the victims: “While the verdict will not bring back your loved ones who were so violently killed, my hope is that today provides some level of comfort and helps to ease the pain, even if ever so slightly. May their memories always be for a blessing. Let us, this day, reaffirm our resolve to bring light into our world and keep the memory of each of the victims in our hearts as we do the work of Tikkun HaOlam, repairing our broken world.”

Alan Hausman, president of the Tree of Life Congregation:

Echoing the late Fred Rogers, Hausman said: “I am thankful for everyone who got us to this day. Every day for the past four and a half years, I’ve tried to look for the helpers: the public safety department and law enforcement officers, the attorneys, our fellow Pittsburgers who have continued to offer their care and support day in and day out. The way our community and people of all faiths came together after October 27, 2018, has helped me and continues to inspire me and give me strength as we move forward.”

Michael Bernstein, chair of the Tree of Life Interim Governance Committee:

Bernstein characterized today as the start of a new, hopeful chapter for the community: “Our community has been waiting a long time for this day. We are grateful to the Justice Department and the jury for their work to get us to a verdict. Today is a reminder that we live in a nation where vulnerable communities can be confident that those who engage in hate-fueled violence will be held accountable. It also marks the start of a new chapter for our community as we continue to heal and move forward as work to build a world in which hate no longer impacts any community. As the legal process continues, our energies will lie in building a better future for all as a part of the collaborative movement across communities and generations to uproot antisemitism and identity-based hate in all its forms.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, Anti-Defamation League CEO:

“We welcome the jury’s verdict today and believe that justice has been served,” said Greenblatt. “This attack was the deadliest act of antisemitic violence in American history — but the hate and conspiratorial thinking that fueled this violence has not gone away. We thank the jurors for their service, and we hope this brings closure to those who lost loved ones five years ago. We will continue to support the community during the sentencing phase of the trial, which is expected to begin in the near future. ADL vows to continue our work to stop hate and protect Jewish communities.”

Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh:

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh continues to stand with the families, witnesses, and first responder community most directly impacted by the deadly synagogue shooting over 4 ½ years ago – many of whom provided direct testimony over the past several weeks. We thank the staff from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their rigorous prosecution and the members of the jury who are fulfilling their civic duty. We acknowledge that today’s verdict is just the first phase of this lengthy trial, as we now begin the penalty phase that will continue through the summer. We also recognize that the impact of this shooting extends far beyond those most directly impacted within American society and the Jewish people. We especially thank the citizenry of the greater Pittsburgh region for standing with the Jewish community since October 27, 2018, and supporting our communal efforts towards healing and resiliency. We are mindful that while the impact of this event has far reaching implications on a national and global stage, it will forever remain a deeply personal and lasting experience in our neighborhood. May the memories of the 11 individuals taken from us that day forever be for a blessing.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Jay Costa:

“Today’s guilty verdict marks the beginning of delivering justice for this terrible tragedy, but not the end. Our Jewish friends and neighbors will spend decades to come healing from this attack and mourning the loss of the community members whose lives were lost. While we now have a guilty verdict, we must also continue fighting to end the hatred and secure safe, welcoming spaces for all of us, no matter how we pray or worship.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro:

“Today’s verdict was a step toward justice in Pittsburgh, but the horror and pain of October 27, 2018, will never go away. My heart remains with the families of the 11 victims who were massacred as they worshipped at Tree of Life that day. May their memories be a blessing.”

Amb. Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress:

“The Pittsburgh jury’s conviction of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooter on all 63 charges against him, including 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death, is a vindication of the American system of justice. It is also an unmistakable reminder of Jew hatred and racial bigotry left unchecked. Society cannot remain complacent and only care about the lives of Jews after an atrocity has been committed. We call on all federal, state, and municipal law enforcement agencies to take all necessary measures to protect synagogues and other Jewish institutions across the United States from any similar tragedy. In the memory of those lives lost, may a dark day never be repeated.”

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director, Lee Schmidt:

“October 27, 2018 will forever be remembered as one of the darkest days in the City of Pittsburgh.

Eleven lives were taken in a horrific act of hate in a place that should have been a sanctuary of peace for members of the three congregations worshipping inside the Tree of Life synagogue. Today, the jury of seven women and five men found the defendant, Robert Bowers, guilty on all 63 federal charges against him. City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety personnel who responded to the tragedy have been indelibly marked by what they experienced that day. The trial has inevitably ripped open wounds that may never truly heal. It is the Department of Public Safety’s fervent hope that the verdict brings the victims’ families, and our personnel involved, a measure of justice for those whose lives were lost.”

State Rep. Dan Frankel:

“Let us remember that the survivors reopened these wounds for us, for humanity. Because there has to be a record. The work to hold back hateful ideologies and violence stands on history. I thank our brave survivors for sharing their suffering so that we can protect against more suffering. And I promise to hold up my end of that deal, fighting those flames of hatred in Harrisburg and at home in Pittsburgh.”

10.27 Healing Partnership:

“Today’s verdict acknowledges the horror of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and is one step in a long journey we need to take in this country and this world to stand up against antisemitism. While many acts of antisemitism and white supremacy have never gotten their day in court, today’s verdict was a validation by our country, community, and legal system of the utmost importance of protecting individuals from being attacked on the basis of their identity in their house of worship. During the phase of the trial, we have seen the beautiful and simple ways many people choose to hold the sabbath. While the sabbath was broken by violence on Oct. 27th, that sacredness continues on in these people and this community. Throughout this trial, we have had to reckon with pervasive antisemitism, both online and in the real world. As we move into the next stages of this trial, we must continue to stand by one another and learn, educate, and act against antisemitism and white supremacy. Solidarity means both to take care and take comfort from one another and to continue to act against oppression and violence in all its forms. Our neighbors were worshipping alongside their fellow congregants on Oct. 27th, 2018 as they would every week. The police officers showed up for work on that Saturday morning as they would any other day. These people bravely told their stories over the course of this trial, deeply touching all of us with their testimony and we have been in awe of their humanity and courage. As always, the 10.27 Healing Partnership is here for this community. No verdict can remove the harm that has been done of bring back the lives that have been taken. Continued pain, grief, and trauma deserves continued care, and we stand ready to provide that for all, both for those directly impacted and the larger community. Connecting with others and pushing back against isolation is key for all of us during this experience and we hope to connect with you. Please do not hesitate to reach out. Justice, justice, shall you pursue.”

Sen. Bob Casey:

“Today’s verdict holds accountable the person responsible for the deadliest act of violence against the Jewish community in American history. This resounding conviction—guilty on all 63 counts, including hate crimes—is a clear rebuke of the hate and antisemitism that motivated the defendant to target worshippers observing Shabbat morning services across three congregations: Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light.

“In order to achieve a full measure of justice for the 11 worshippers who lost their lives and six more people injured, we must continue working to root out the antisemitism that plagues our Nation and our world to this day. Antisemitic incidents in the United States reached a new high in 2022, four years after this attack. We owe it to those who lost their lives, the members of these congregations, and the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and beyond to ensure this never happens again.

“I am praying for the families and loved ones of Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger. May their memories be for a blessing.”

Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh:

“In the 7th chapter of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, Moses delivers the powerful message: ‘The Lord has set His heart on you because the Lord loved you.’ Those words were spoken to the beloved Jewish people. At this delicate time for the Pittsburgh Jewish Community and beyond, we all need to embrace not only God’s words but especially at this time set our hearts on our Jewish sisters and brothers as God does.”

Rep. Summer Lee:

“Today’s conviction is a step towards justice for the 11 Jewish worshippers killed by a white supremacist gunman in 2018.

“May the memories of those taken from us be forever a blessing. And May the strength and resilience shown by the survivors, the victims’ family members, and the entire Jewish community throughout this heartbreaking trial forever be an inspiration to us all.

“They inspire me to work even harder to confront the root causes of hatred, racism, and bigotry so that no community has to live in fear of such senseless violence ever again.”

Sen. John Fetterman:

Pennsylvania U.S. Senator John Fetterman on Friday released the following statement after a Pittsburgh jury found the perpetrator of the Tree of Life shooting guilty on all counts:

“Gisele and I are remembering the victims whose lives were taken during the horrific Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh over four years ago.

“Today, a jury found the shooter guilty of all charges. This is a step towards justice for such a hateful, disgusting, and antisemitic attack.

“We all must continue to stand in solidarity with Pennsylvania’s Jewish community against the evil of antisemitism.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey:

“Five years ago, our city was shaken when 11 lives were taken in an act of antisemitic hate. Today, we remember the lives of Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Melvin Wax, Daniel Stein, Irving Younger, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Joyce Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Cecil Rosenthal, and David Rosenthal. May their memories be a blessing.

“Pittsburgh, please join me in praying for the family and friends of those we lost and those who survived this horrific tragedy. I hope that today helps our Jewish brothers and sisters, and our entire city, begin their journey towards healing.

“As we continue to eliminate hate from our beloved city, remember: Pittsburgh is stronger than hate.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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