PITTSBURGH — It was her brother’s active faith that inspired Carol Black to recommit as an adult to being a practicing Jew several years ago, and their shared commitment brought them to the Tree of Life synagogue on the October 2018 day it was attacked.
Testifying on the second day of the trial of the man who carried out the deadliest antisemitic attack in US history, Black tells jurors today about how she and others in her New Light congregation heard loud noises as they started Sabbath services. They soon realized it was gunfire, so some of them hid in a storage room.
“I just remained calm. … I thought by remaining calm, I would not give my position away,” she testifies in the Pittsburgh federal courtroom.
Black, 71, recalls how she remained hidden even as she saw congregant Mel Wax, who had been hiding close to her, drop dead after the gunman shot him. Wax, 87, was hard of hearing and had opened the storage door, apparently believing the attack was over she says. Black didn’t learn until later that her 65-year-old brother, Richard Gottfried, was among the 11 people killed in the attack.
The testimony came in the trial of Robert Bowers, a truck driver from the Pittsburgh suburb of Baldwin. Bowers, 50, could face the death penalty if he’s convicted of some of the 63 counts he faces in the October 27, 2018, attack, which claimed the lives of worshippers from three congregations who were using the synagogue that day: New Light, Dor Hadash and the Tree of Life.
That Bowers carried out the attack, which also injured seven people, isn’t in question: His lawyer Judy Clarke acknowledged as much on the trial’s first day. But hoping to spare Bowers from getting the death penalty, Clarke questioned the hate crime counts he faces, suggesting instead that he attacked the synagogue out of an irrational belief that that he needed to kill Jews to save others from a genocide that he claimed they were enabling by helping immigrants come to the U.S.
Prosecutors, who rejected Bowers’ offer to plead guilty in exchange for removing the possibility that could be sentenced to death, have said Bowers made incriminating statements to investigators and left an online trail of antisemitic statements that shows the attack was motivated by religious hatred.