Pittsburgh Synagogue Assailant Was the Bland Man from Apartment 1
Posted October 28, 2018 3:33 p.m. EDT
PITTSBURGH — Robert Bowers poured out murderous, anti-Semitic hatred online. But in person at home, people remembered him Sunday as the bland neighbor from Apartment 1 who offered no clues about his racist views, his dark plans, or really anything at all.
Bowers made such an insubstantial impression on his next-door neighbor, Kerrie Owens, that she forgot his name soon after he introduced himself when he moved into his ground-floor apartment 1 1/2 years ago. Bowers said he worked as a truck driver and needed the apartment primarily to store his stuff, Owens said.
“I felt bad because he’d say, ‘Hi, Kerri,’ and I wouldn’t remember his name,” Owens said. “When I saw his picture on the news, my stomach dropped. I couldn’t believe it.”
Bowers was charged Saturday with fatally shooting 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue during a Saturday morning worship service. He told law-enforcement officials who were arresting him at the scene that he wanted “all Jews to die,” according to a criminal complaint.
For months before the shooting, he unleashed a torrent of anti-immigrant and anti-Jewish invective and conspiracy theories on Gab, a social-media network that has been embraced by white nationalists. He had 21 guns registered in his name and carried out the massacre with an AR-15-style assault weapon and three handguns, authorities have said.
Owens said she was stunned by all this, echoing the shock of other neighbors who told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Bowers had been a quiet neighbor and had lived with his maternal grandfather until the grandfather died in 2014.
The ramshackle apartment building where Bowers had most recently lived is a 30-minute drive south of the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill area. It is in Baldwin Borough, a hilly, middle-class neighborhood that is part of metropolitan Pittsburgh.
His apartment is one of 11 in the grandly named McAnulty Acres, a ramshackle two-story building that includes the offices of a plumbing company.
A rusty barbecue smoker and an empty beer bottle sat outside Sunday.
Law enforcement officials had cordoned off the street Saturday and robots entered Bowers’ apartment, said a neighbor, Jerry, who declined to provide his full name. On Sunday, there were no more signs of police or FBI activity.
Bowers seemed to leave for work for a few days at a time, but when he was home, neither Bowers nor his teal-blue sedan moved, Owens said. Her fiance, Chris Hall, 28, said he sometimes came home late from work to see Bowers sitting in his car, smoking and apparently listening to the radio.
“There was nothing about him, not even a bumper sticker on his car,” Hall said.
Owens would sometimes hear him through her wall, chatting with the landlord when he went to drop off his rent — in cash — at the landlord’s office around the corner.
But he had no guests. He lived alone. He watched television late into the night sometimes. He used a post-office box instead of the mailboxes at the apartment complex. But nothing about his behavior concerned her, and their conversations never went beyond pleasantries, Owens said.
“I don’t know if he had any friends, anywhere,” Hall said.
Owens said she last saw his car when she went to work Friday morning, but does not know whether he was there when she returned that night. Like much about him, the memory is opaque.
“It’s very unsettling knowing all that stuff that was used to hurt those people was on the other side of the wall,” she said. “I didn’t see any signs. I can’t even comprehend that he had that much hate and seemed so normal.”