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What We Know About The Alleged Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter


We're learning more today about the man who's believed to have killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday. He was arraigned in a courtroom in Pittsburgh earlier today. Julie Turkewitz has been reporting on his background for The New York Times, and she joins us now.


JULIE TURKEWITZ: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: You've been speaking with people who know Robert Bowers, including a childhood friend of his. What have you learned from them?

TURKEWITZ: So most of the people that we've spoken to describe him as very quiet, very isolated. He lived alone. He's seemed to watch television into the night. He used a P.O. box and not the sort of mailbox at his apartment, which was just south of the synagogue. But I spoke to a friend of his who has known him for years and years. They went to elementary school together. They went to middle school together. They went to high school together. And he said that Robert Bowers, as a child, was very smart but also seemed to really struggle with social cues.

And the two of them were friends, and they would play together. They would build things together. They would take things apart. They would build bombs together sort of as pranks and blow up watermelons. But as time went on, the two of them sort of grew apart. And Robert Bowers became quieter, more isolated and, then in high school, eventually just disappeared. And it's not clear if he graduated. And - it's not clear to this man what happened after that.

SHAPIRO: Paint a picture for us of his life at this apartment complex. The man you portray in your reporting almost seems like a ghost, like he's not even there.

TURKEWITZ: Yeah. So he lived in this sort of low-slung apartment building about 25 minutes south of the synagogue. And the people there sort of described him as so unremarkable that they didn't even remember his name - and that he was pretty much a ghost. He would come and go and sometimes disappear for days, come back, go inside. And that was pretty much it.

SHAPIRO: And there's such a contrast between that demeanor in person and who he was online. Tell us about the person he was on social media.

TURKEWITZ: Yeah. So at least in the last year, he spent a lot of time on the Internet. And spewed a lot of really terrible things about Jews, about immigrants. He was clearly very angry. And he seemed to find a like-minded community on Gab, which is a social media network that has become more popular among "alt-right" activists, among white nationalists - people whose views are unwelcome in places like Twitter and Facebook. Even the president didn't escape his anger. And he seemed to think that the president had not gone far enough in completing the goals that Mr. Bowers had.

SHAPIRO: And can you tell whether those online communities shaped and formed his hateful views or whether he just found a home for those pre-existing beliefs when he joined these communities?

TURKEWITZ: I don't think that we know enough yet to say that. I think that that is one of the things that is going to come out over the next couple of weeks, over the next couple of months as investigators go into his past.

SHAPIRO: What else are you still hoping to learn about him and his motives?

TURKEWITZ: I mean, we would certainly like to know more about - how did he become as hateful as he did? And how long had that been going on, and what role did the Internet play? Did the current sort of political anger and conflict play in? So I know that investigators are going to be going through his computer files, are going to be going through his home. They're going to be talking to folks who know him, who might have worked with him - family members, friends, that kind of thing.

SHAPIRO: That's Julie Turkewitz of The New York Times, who's been reporting on the background of Robert Bowers, the accused synagogue shooter.

Thank you very much.

TURKEWITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.