The suspect in the Squirrel Hill shootings Saturday showed neighbors no signs of radicalization, but left online warnings of hatred of Jews and immigrants, which seemed to point to an eventual target.
The chosen target, though, never got word.
The attack at the Tree of Life Congregation left 11 dead and six — including four police officers — wounded, according to law enforcement officials who spoke hours after the 10 a.m. tragedy.
Charged in the mass shooting was Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin Borough, outside Pittsburgh. Law enforcement will be looking at his home, vehicle, social media profile, and movements in recent days, according to FBI Special Agent in Charge Bob Jones, whose Pittsburgh branch is taking the lead in the hate-crime investigation.
Jones said that law enforcement had no prior knowledge of Bowers, adding that he engaged in the attack with "an assault rifle and three handguns."
Online records show no indication of prior criminal involvement for Bowers, though Police in the borough of Dormont had a number of contacts with him from the 1990s through 2004, borough Police Sgt. Jim Briglia said. At that point, Bowers was living on the 1400 block of Potomac Avenue in the borough, Briglia said. He declined Saturday to describe the prior contacts.
Former neighbors said they saw no warning signs.
Linda Lohr, a retired paralegal who lived across East Barlind from Bowers, held her chest and nearly fell when told that he was the suspect. "I'm stunned. It was horrendous," she said. She said Bowers didn't talk with her much, but would call if she left the garage door open.
The U.S. Attorney's Office on Saturday night filed 29 counts against Bowers.
He was charged with 11 counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death; 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence; four counts of obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer and three counts of use and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence.
The criminal complaint was signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell at 8:05 p.m.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said the complaint and supporting affidavit will be available at a news conference at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
The target does not seem to have been random.
Someone posting under the name Robert Bowers on the social media site Gab.com wrote on or around Oct. 10: "Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us? We appreciate the list of friends you have provided," and included a link to the website for HIAS National Refugee Shabbat, formerly the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society.
HIAS was founded in 1881 to help Jews fleeing Eastern Europe. In the 2000s, it expanded its work to include nonJewish refugees, including those fleeing Afghanistan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Hungary, Iran, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Tunisia and Vietnam.
HIAS led events last weekend, billing them online as "a moment for congregations, organizations, and individuals around the country to create a Shabbat experience dedicated to refugees." Jewish Family and Community Services is listed on the HIAS website as a partner of the organization. The website indicates that JFCS and three Pittsburgh congregations were participating in the group's awareness campaign last weekend: Beth Shalom, Dor Hadash and Makom HaLev.
On Gab.com, a social media platform founded by Pennsylvania native Andrew Torba and once headquartered in Philadelphia, a Robert Bowers indicated a week ago that he "noticed a change in people saying 'illegals' that now say 'invaders' I like this." He also called one other poster on Gab.com a "deceptive little oven dodger" in response to a post debunking a rumor that trucks marked with the Star of David were bringing Central American migrants to the U.S.
In recent days, that Robert Bowers vigorously shared anti-Jewish posts and wrote several of his own. He did not favor President Trump, endorsing posts suggesting that Trump was controlled by Jews and writing that he "is a globalist, not a nationalist."
Saturday morning, Robert Bowers posted on Gab.com that "HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."
"I don't understand why he would be angry at the Jewish people," said Terry Choate, a retired government contractor who said he knew Bowers since the suspect was a small child. "I can't believe he did that. I'd like to know what set him off."
Choate said that Bowers lived with his maternal grandfather until the man's death in 2014. Bowers, believed to be a high school graduate, was a person who caused no trouble in the neighborhood, he said.
"I'm in shock. I can't believe that happened," he said, adding that when Bowers last dropped by a year ago, he said he was working for a trucking firm and making good money. Choate said that he worried that Bowers might be alone too much.
Gab.com's legal department did not respond when asked, via email, whether it reached out to anyone prior to the shooting.
Gab.com released a statement on the shooting Saturday afternoon, indicating that its "policy on terrorism and violence have always been very clear: we a have zero tolerance policy for it. Gab unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence. … We are saddened and disgusted by the news of violence in Pittsburgh and are keeping the families and friends of all victims in our thoughts and prayers."
The statement also said: "Shortly after the attack, Gab was alerted to a user profile of the alleged Tree of Life Synagogue shooter. The account was verified and matched the name of the alleged shooter's name, which was mentioned on police scanners."
After that notification, according to Gab, "Gab took swift and proactive action to contact law enforcement immediately," backing up user data and suspending the suspect's account. "We are ready and willing to work with law enforcement to see to it that justice is served."
HIAS never became aware of Bowers' online warnings, had never heard of him, and had never been a target of violence or of credible threats before, said Bill Swersey, the organization's senior director of communications.