Robert Bowers appeared in court on Thursday to plead not guilty to multiple criminal counts, as well as 11 counts of murder. Bowers allegedly entered a Pittsburgh synagogue on October 27 screaming about Jews, and began shooting as many of the worshippers that he could.
Bowers, 46, is facing the death penalty for his alleged crimes. Today he is known nationwide as a hate-monger and a killer, but before last Saturday very few people knew Bowers, the Washington Post reports.
Bowers began life without much of a stable home, if marriage and divorce records are any indication. His mother was married to a man named Randall G. Bowers when he was born in August of 1973, but the pair were divorced about a year later.
His mother, Barbara, remarried a man named Robert Saiter while Robert Bowers was still a toddler, around 3- or 4-years-old. But these two were together for less than a year before they decided to call it quits.
And back then, Bowers was just a regular little kid.
“I never had any problems with him,” said Saiter. “He was a very good kid.”
As a boy, like a lot of little boys, Robert Bowers played with toy cars and trucks.
Barbara moved back in with her parents in Pennsylvania following the failed marriage. She suffered from health problems, and Robert was primarily raised by his grandparents.
Bowers grew up around Whitehall, Pennsylvania, and spent a lot of time at home. He didn’t graduate high school and didn’t socialize much.
Robert Bowers murdered 11 Jews in their place of worship on 10/27/2018. pic.twitter.com/y8FTqAAocc— Sharron Ashford (@sharr1116) November 1, 2018
Perhaps it all went wrong when Robert was 7. That’s when the man assumed to be his biological father, Randall Bowers, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Randall Bowers had a criminal complaint filed against him in 1979. A young woman said he got into her car, forced her to drive to Squirrel Hill in Pittsburg, and then he sexually assaulted her.
Bowers was awaiting trial when he was found dead. His body was discovered in an outdoor picnic area, about a month after Robert Bowers turned 7. It’s not known what, if any, relationship the two had. However, the story was published in local newspapers.
And interestingly, the Tree of Life Synagogue is in the same Squirrel Hill neighborhood where Randall Bowers allegedly committed his sexual crime.
Robert’s mother, Barbara Bolt, is a member of the First Baptist Monongahela Church. According to her pastor, “she doesn’t condone at all what her son has done…she’s praying for the families of the victims and their friends.”
So far, the picture of Robert Bowers that is emerging is one of an isolated person. He lived alone, the New York Times reports.
“He was in his own little world,” says Jim Brinsky, 46, who knew Robert Bowers in childhood. The two actually grew up together, but Brinsky never met Robert’s parents. As young boys, they built pipe bombs to blow up watermelons.
But the two drifted apart when they began attending Baldwin High School. Here, Bowers frequently walked around in a camouflage jacket and kept to himself most of the time.
His 1989 yearbook, during which Bowers was in the 11th grade, doesn’t have him included in any clubs, sports or activities at the school. He’s not in the 1990 yearbook at all, presumably because he stopped attending.
“He was pretty much a ghost,” said Brinskey.
This remained true as Robert Bowers became an adult. His neighbors barely saw him. Kerri Owens, who lived next door, says she actually forgot his name soon after meeting him. Bowers told her he worked as a truck driver, and mostly used the apartment to store his belongings.
“I felt bad because he’d say, ‘hi, Kerri,’ and I wouldn’t remember his name. When I saw his picture on the news, my stomach dropped. I couldn’t believe it.”
This was not how Robert Bowers behaved online. His social media posts are filled with anger and hatred, peppered liberally with various conspiracy theories.
He owned a total of 21 guns, and allegedly walked into the synagogue that day with four of them.
He paid his rent in cash, and usually chatted with the landlord when making these payments. But neighbors never saw him receive any visitors to his apartment, no friends coming to see him. Sometimes, they could hear him watching television late into the night.
He seemed polite and exchanged brief small talk with people when he saw them.
“I didn’t see any signs. I can’t even comprehend that he had that much hate and seemed so normal,” said neighborhood Kerri Owens. “It’s very unsettling knowing all that stuff that was used to hurt those people was on the other side of the wall.”
Bowers allegedly yelled “Jews must die” before he started firing into a synagogue full of people with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.