'Felt like a year': Victims describe deadly shooting in trial for gunman who attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue

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It was her brother's progressive religion that inspired Carol Black to recommit arsenic an big to being a practicing Jew respective years ago, and their shared committedness brought them to the Tree of Life synagogue connected the October 2018 time it was attacked.

Testifying connected the 2nd time of the proceedings of the antheral who carried retired the deadliest antisemitic onslaught successful U.S. history, Black told jurors Wednesday astir however she and others successful her New Light congregation heard large noises arsenic they started Sabbath services. They soon realized it was gunfire, truthful immoderate of them hid successful a retention room.

"I conscionable remained calm. ... I thought by remaining calm, I would not springiness my presumption away," she testified successful the Pittsburgh national courtroom.

Black, 71, recalled however she remained hidden adjacent arsenic she saw congregant Mel Wax, who had been hiding adjacent to her, driblet dormant aft the gunman changeable him. Wax, 87, was hard of proceeding and had opened the retention door, seemingly believing the onslaught was over, she said. Black didn't larn until aboriginal that her 65-year-old brother, Richard Gottfried, was among the 11 radical killed successful the attack.


The grounds came successful the proceedings of Robert Bowers, a motortruck operator from the Pittsburgh suburb of Baldwin. Bowers, 50, could look the decease punishment if he’s convicted of immoderate of the 63 counts helium faces successful the Oct. 27, 2018, attack, which claimed the lives of worshippers from 3 congregations who were utilizing the synagogue that day: New Light, Dor Hadash and the Tree of Life.

That Bowers carried retired the attack, which besides injured 7 people, isn't successful question: His lawyer Judy Clarke acknowledged arsenic overmuch connected the trial's archetypal day. But hoping to spare Bowers from the decease penalty, Clarke questioned the hatred transgression counts helium faces, suggesting alternatively that helium attacked the synagogue retired of an irrational content that helium needed to termination Jews to prevention others from a genocide that helium claimed they were enabling by helping immigrants travel to the U.S.

Prosecutors, who rejected Bowers' connection to plead blameworthy successful speech for removing the anticipation that helium could beryllium sentenced to death, person said Bowers made incriminating statements to investigators and near an online way of antisemitic statements that shows the onslaught was motivated by spiritual hatred.

Bowers, who lone surrendered connected the time of the onslaught aft constabulary changeable him 3 times, had commented connected Gab, a societal media tract fashionable with the acold right, that Dor Hadash had hosted a refugee-oriented Sabbath work successful conjunction with HIAS, a Jewish bureau whose enactment includes aiding refugees.

Richard Gottfried

Richard Gottfried, center, carries the Torah arsenic helium and different members of the New Light Jewish congregation march on Denniston Street, connected Nov. 12, 2017, successful Pittsburgh. Robert Bowers went connected proceedings connected May 30, 2023, much than 4 years aft an onslaught connected a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 worshipers, including Gottfried, and wounded 7 others.  (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo Song began Wednesday's proceedings by asking Black astir her affiliation with the New Light congregation. She recalled however her brother, Gottfried, became much observant aft their father's decease and however she aboriginal began attending services regularly, getting truthful progressive that she had an big bat mitzvah — a Jewish close of transition that she hadn't had arsenic a teenager.


"I was rededicating myself to Judaism," she said.

She recalled fondly however successful 2017, she and her member carried Torah scrolls arsenic they paraded from their aged synagogue, which the tiny congregation had sold successful a downsizing, to their caller determination successful rented abstraction astatine the Tree of Life building.

She said Gottfried, Wax and 71-year-old Dan Stein were "the 3 main pillars of our congregation." On the greeting of the attack, Gottfried and Stein were successful a room adjacent the sanctuary readying a men's radical meal for the adjacent time erstwhile Bowers killed them.

Black said she and chap subordinate Barry Werber hid successful a darkened retention closet for what "felt similar a year" earlier constabulary rescued them. And she said that arsenic she left, she softly said goodbye to Wax arsenic she had to measurement implicit his assemblage to travel the officers.

Werber, 81, besides testified astir hiding successful the closet.

"My caput was clouded with panic," said Werber, who besides saw Wax get killed.

"I heard gunshots," Werber testified. "Mel Wax fell backmost into the room, and a abbreviated clip aboriginal the doorway opened slightly. I saw a fig of a idiosyncratic measurement implicit the assemblage and past measurement back. He couldn’t spot us. It was excessively dark."

Jurors besides heard the recordings of 911 calls made by Werber and Gottfried.

Bowers, similar connected the trial's archetypal day, showed small emotion arsenic helium sat astatine the defence table.

Jurors besides heard grounds from Dan Leger, who was severely wounded successful the attack.

Leger, present 75, and 2 different members of Dor Hadash were gathered successful an upstairs country astir to commencement a Torah survey erstwhile they heard gunshots. One of the participants fled. Leger, a caregiver and chaplain, and Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz decided to spot if they could assistance anyone who mightiness beryllium injured.

"Jerry was a physician, I’m a nurse. ... We knew instinctively that what we needed to bash was effort to bash thing to help. So we some moved into the absorption of the gunfire, which possibly was a anserine happening to do, but that’s what we did," Leger said.


Rabinowitz, 66, was killed. Leger was changeable successful the abdomen and laic connected the staircase, keeping inactive truthful arsenic not to fto the shooter cognize helium was inactive alive.

He heard the dependable of Tree of Life subordinate Irving Younger calling retired the sanction of chap subordinate Cecil Rosenthal successful horror. Younger and Rosenthal were some killed.

The symptom soon became "excruciating," Leger said.

While waiting for rescue, Leger said his breathing became labored, and helium recognized the symptoms: "I felt that I was dying."

He uttered the Shema — a Jewish supplication professing religion successful 1 God — and helium prayed a last confession of his sins.

"I reviewed my life, I thought astir the wonderment of it all, and the quality of my beingness and the happiness I had experienced," helium said, including with his household and friends.

Although helium said helium was "ready to go," Leger was rescued and underwent aggregate surgeries. He inactive suffers from terrible injuries, including a hep fracture, nervus harm and abdominal wounds that required the removal of a ample conception of his intestines.

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