Mass Shooting Took Place in the Squirrel Hill

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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On the morning of October 27th, 2018, a mass shooting took place in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The gunman, 46-year-old Robert Bowers, murdered 11 individuals and wounded six at the Tree of Life Synagogue. While his initial target was the Jewish community, or in that moment, the Jewish attendees of the Tree of Life Synagogue, his eventual shootout with the police resulted in six wounded. Ultimately, of the six injured individuals, two were police officers and two were SWAT officers.

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Bowers, both during the mass shooting and after, expressed his contempt towards Jews and his desire to kill them via verbal statements and social media posts. Bowers weaponry for the mass shooting consisted of a rifle and three handguns, later identified as a Colt R-15 and three Glock .357 handguns (The U.S Department Of Justice). Scarily enough, Bowers has a total of 21 guns that are registered under his name.

Through the investigations conducted by law enforcement, officials have discovered Bowers’ Gab account, a social media platform predominantly used by those categorized as in the “far-right.” In other words, it is a free-speech alternative to Twitter, which acts as a platform for hate speech due to its various unfiltered posts and unrestricted content. Bowers’ Gab account hosted multiple posts that expressed anti-Semitic views he himself made or otherwise shared from other users. His most recent post, which was made minutes before the police were called to the scene of the mass shooting stated, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” (Trimble). Moreover, there were various other posts in which Bowers expressed his revulsion towards Jews, blamed Jews for attacks on his own race, and even commented on how he believed Jews were the children of Satan.

Bowers, on October 21st, 2018, was charged with 44 counts by the U.S District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. As of January of 2019, 16 more charges have been added, resulting in a 63-count superseding indictment. Bowers is being charged with federal hate crimes, firearm offenses, and violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. As for the federal crimes charged against him, he pleaded not guilty. However, on top of the federal charges, he also has charges by the Pennsylvania State Court. The authorities have classified this as a heinous hate crime due to the fact that he interfered with the religious beliefs of the Jewish community, provided intent to harm and commit the hate crime via social media, and worst of all, murdered 11 citizens whilst carrying out his hate crime. Under the First Amendment, an individual’s freedom of religion is protected. By targeting the Tree of Life Synagogue during their Shabbat morning services, he inadvertently targeted three separate congregations: Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light (Chaves, Grinberg and McLaughlin). In other words, he obstructed their individual rights in terms of one’s free exercise of religious beliefs. In addition, Bowers’ attack on this specific Jewish community posits fear among other Jewish communities outside of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is the idea that hate crimes have a wider impact. While hate crimes affect the victims themselves, they also affect every single member of the victim’s group, otherwise Jewish people throughout the United States.

In reference to Levin and McDevitt’s four offender motivation typologies, Bowers would most likely be categorized under mission crimes. According to his numerous Gab posts, he harbored resent towards the Jewish community, and even migrants in general, in which he blamed them for acts against his own race. It is not necessarily that he believes the Jewish community is conspiring against him but rather that they are conspiring against his own race. While Bowers would not be classified as psychotic per se, one would assume he was troubled due to his unfounded allegations and racist statements. Through his Gab account, he often promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. In one post, Moreover, Bowers acted alone against a group he deemed as “children of Satan,” which posits that he views the Jewish community as evil. In other posts, he refers to immigrants as “invaders” and blamed Jews for aiding their arrival into the country (Levenson and Sanchez). The majority of his insensitive, anti-Semitic social media posts offers insight into his motivations. They provide evidence, otherwise intent, as to why he committed a hate crime against the Jewish community.

As of now, Bowers continues to maintain his plea of not guilty. Among the 63-count superseding indictment, 22 of them hold the possibility of capital punishment, which may result in the death penalty for Robert Bowers. Overall, Bowers’ motivation typology best fits under mission crimes. He did not commit his hate crime in an attempt to alleviate boredom or impress his friends, he was not trying to convince the Jewish community to relocate or defend his neighborhood, and he was not attempting to carry out his revenge.

Works Cited

  1. Chaves, Nicole, Emanuella Grinberg and Eliott C. McLaughlin. CNN U.S. 31 October 2018. 4 March 2019.
  2. Levenson, Eric and Ray Sanchez. CNN U.S. 28 October 2018. 4 March 2019.
  3. The U.S Department Of Justice. 29 January 2019. 4 March 2019.
  4. Trimble, Megan. National News. 29 January 2019. 4 March 2019 . .
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Mass Shooting Took Place in the Squirrel Hill. (2021, Apr 08). Retrieved from