PITTSBURGH: The avowed anti-Semite accused of opening fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue and killing 11 worshippers is scheduled to appear in federal court on Thursday, as three more victims of the massacre are laid to rest.
Funerals will be held for Sylvan Simon, 86, his wife, Bernice, 84, and for Richard Gottfried, 65, who were killed on Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill district in the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history.
The accused gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, will be arraigned on a 44-count grand jury indictment that includes 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder, one count for each worshipper killed.
Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty against Bowers, who also faces hate crime and firearm charges.
Bowers is accused of bursting into the synagogue and opening fire with a semi-automatic rifle and three pistols in the midst of Sabbath prayer services as he shouted “All Jews must die.” Six people, including four police officers, were wounded before the suspect was shot by police and surrendered.
The attack, following a wave of pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats, heightened national tensions days ahead of elections on Tuesday that will decide whether US President Donald Trump loses the Republican majority he now enjoys in both houses of Congress.
The Pittsburgh massacre also fuelled a debate over Trump’s rhetoric and his self-identification as a “nationalist,” which critics say has fomented a surge in right-wing extremism and may have helped provoke Saturday’s bloodshed.
The Trump administration has rejected the notion that he has encouraged white nationalists and neo-Nazis who have embraced him, insisting he is trying to unify America even as he continues to disparage the media as an “enemy of the people.” Mourners had gathered on Wednesday for the funerals of Melvin Wax, 88, who was leading Sabbath services for one of the temple’s three congregations when the attack began; retired real estate agent Irving Younger, 69; and retired university researcher Joyce Fienberg, 75.