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Pittsburgh synagogue shooter only surrendered because he was out of ammo and injured, officer testifies

<i>US District Court Western PA</i><br/>Michael O’Keefe
US District Court Western PA
Michael O’Keefe

By Sabrina Souza and Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) — The man who allegedly fatally shot 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 only surrendered to police because he was out of ammo and had been shot, one of the SWAT officers who responded that day testified Wednesday.

Michael O’Keefe, a former lieutenant and tactical commander with the Allegheny County Police Department’s SWAT team, testified in court about the police response, shootout and eventual surrender of the gunman, identified as Robert Bowers.

While surrendering, Bowers said, “Invaders were coming, Jews were killing our children, and he had to take action,” according to O’Keefe. Bowers also said he only surrendered because he was out of AR-15 ammo and had been shot by police, O’Keefe testified.

The testimony came as part of the federal hate crimes trial of Bowers, 50, who has pleaded not guilty to 63 charges, including obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and hate crimes resulting in death. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Opening statements took place last week, and the trial is expected to last into July. The case so far has featured testimony from those inside the Tree of Life synagogue that October 2018 day, officers who responded to the shooting and medical experts speaking about those killed.

For weeks before the shooting, Bowers posted attacks on immigrants and Jewish people on Gab, a small social media platform then used by far-right extremists. He particularly criticized migrants as “invaders” and repeatedly disparaged the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a non-profit providing support to refugees.

Prosecutors have said Bowers carried out the attack because of his hatred for Jewish people. The defense has not challenged or cross-examined most of the witnesses but in opening statements sought to raise questions about his motive and intent in the shooting.

Also in court Wednesday, Shawn Eigenbrode, a paramedic, testified that he treated Bowers’ injuries after the shooting and helped carry him out of the synagogue through a fire escape at the back of a classroom.

“He was awake looking at us, pretty cooperative,” Eigenbrode said.

Federal prosecutor Soo Song played a video of Bowers being brought out through the fire escape in which Bowers’ voice can be heard. This is the first piece of evidence presented in which the public can hear or see Bowers on the day of the shooting.

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