The man accused of killing 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue pleaded not guilty Thursday in a U.S. federal court on 44 charges that include murder and hate crimes.
Robert Bowers, 46, spoke little during the brief court appearance beyond saying he understood the charges and his “not guilty” plea.
A grand jury indicted Bowers on Wednesday in connection with the October 27 attack at the Tree of Life synagogue.
In announcing the indictment, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the alleged crimes “are incomprehensibly evil and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation. Therefore this case is not only important to the victims and their loved ones, but to the city of Pittsburgh and the entire nation.”
Funerals for the victims continue Thursday with services for Bernice and Sylvan Simon, as well as Dr. Richard Gottfried.
On Wednesday, hundreds of friends gathered to pay tribute to Melvin Wax, 88, who was leading Sabbath services on Saturday when the gunman burst into the synagogue shouting, “All Jews must die!” and began shooting. Funerals also were held for retired real estate agent Irving Younger, 69, and retired university researcher Joyce Fienberg, 75.
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited the synagogue on Tuesday, placing a stone at each of the 11 Stars of David set up outside. Placing stones at a grave or remembrance site is an ancient Jewish tradition.
Trump also met with police officers wounded by gunfire in a shootout as they apprehended Bowers and spent an hour talking with Peg Durachko, whose husband, Dr. Richard Gottfried, was among the 11 killed.
“Melania and I were treated very nicely yesterday in Pittsburgh,” Trump said on Twitter. “The Office of the President was shown great respect on a very sad & solemn day. We were treated so warmly.”
Several thousand protesters demonstrated in the streets during Trump’s visit, contending that his rhetoric helped fuel the gunman’s anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant views against a Jewish group that aids refugees arriving in the U.S. from overseas. Trump complained about news coverage of the several hours he spent in Pittsburgh.
“Small protest was not seen by us, staged far away,” he said. “The Fake News stories were just the opposite-Disgraceful!”
Trump shook hands with the synagogue’s rabbi, Jeffrey Myers, and the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — wearing a Jewish yarmulke — and daughter Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism when she married Kushner, accompanied the first couple to offer their condolences.
“The president was very moved by the visit and his time with the rabbi and called it very humbling and sad,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.
The Anti-Defamation League, which has tracked hatred and violence against Jews since the 1970s, said the Pittsburgh mayhem was the worst attack against the Jewish community in U.S. history. (VOA)