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What's Known About The Suspect In The Pittsburgh Shooting


More now on this morning's shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa. The FBI is on the ground. They are helping to investigate the tragedy. Authorities are treating it as a hate crime. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas is here with us now to tell us more.

Hello, Ryan.


MARTIN: First of all, what can you tell us about the gunman at this point?

LUCAS: Well, we don't know a whole lot about him at this point. He's been identified as Robert Bowers, a Pittsburgh resident. In terms of how this investigation is going to look, the special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Pittsburgh, a man by the name of Bob Jones, laid out a bit of that today. Here's what he had to say about how this is going to move forward.


BOB JONES: And, over the next several days and weeks, we will look at everything in this suspect's life - his home, his vehicle, his social media and his movements over the last several days.

LUCAS: Jones says officers recovered an assault rifle and three handguns at the scene. When agents are going to search his home, they say that they'll take precautions in case there might be any sort of explosive devices there. He says the FBI does not believe at this point that the suspect had any accomplices. He was not known to law enforcement before today, he says. And he also says that the suspect's full motive at this point is unknown. But that, of course, is something that the FBI is going to work to find out.

MARTIN: Well, the president has called this an anti-Semitic act. And authorities say that they are looking at this as a hate crime investigation. What does that mean, and what does that tell us?

LUCAS: Well, first off, yes. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said in a statement that the Justice Department will file hate crimes and other criminal charges in this case. He says that there's no place for hatred or violence on the basis of basis of religion. The U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Scott Brady - he says that prosecutors could file those charges as early as this evening. But we're going to have to wait and see what all those sort of charges are going to entail.

MARTIN: And could you just tell us a bit more about what hate crime charges would mean?

LUCAS: Right. In some cases, federal hate crime charges would bring a stiffer sentence to take into account the particular nature of the crime. In a case like this, a former federal prosecutor tells me that it likely wouldn't change that much because this sort of crime with 11 people killed, the sentence is likely to be significant anyways. But federal hate crimes could bring into play possibly the death penalty. Pennsylvania does have a state death penalty, although it hasn't been used in quite some time.

But treating this shooting and prosecuting it as a federal hate crime does send a message of the seriousness of the crime and that the federal government treats it as such. You'll recall, of course, the case of Dylann Roof, who was convicted in the killing of nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, S.C. The federal government in that case brought hate crime charges against him even though he was already facing state charges. And, ultimately, a federal jury convicted him. And he was sentenced to death.

MARTIN: And, just as briefly as you can, to the degree that you know, what happens next?

LUCAS: Well, the FBI is just getting to work on this. There's a large crime scene that they'll have to go through, have to collect evidence there. There's lab work to be done. And then, of course, there's digging into the alleged shooter's social media history. There are already accounts reportedly linked to him that appear to show a fair amount of anti-Semitic sentiment. And the alleged shooter in this case is, of course, alive and in custody, so possibly looking to question him.

MARTIN: That is NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas.

Ryan, thank you so much for talking to us.

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

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
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