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Three years later, trial awaits synagogue shooting suspect

PITTSBURGH — As the three-year mark since the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue approaches, survivors are planning now-familiar annual rituals of remembrance, the criminal case involving the suspect plods on, and the site is in line for restoration.

The landmark synagogue in Pittsburgh’s leafy Squirrel Hill neighborhood remains dormant, but a renowned architect is among those working to transform the site where 11 people were killed in America’s deadliest antisemitic attack.

No trial date is in sight for the suspect, Robert G. Bowers. Nor is there any indication the U.S. Justice Department is heeding the calls of some members of the targeted congregations to avert a trial by dropping its quest for a death penalty and accepting a guilty plea accompanied by a life sentence.

In the coming days, members of the three congregations whose Sabbath services were underway during the Oct. 27, 2018, attack will join with supporters to pay quiet tribute, gathering for community-service projects and studying the Torah.

And on Wednesday afternoon, three years to the day since the shooting, they will assemble outdoors for a memorial service at Schenley Park, among 11 trees planted there to remember the slain.

“People are having a really difficult time in this COVID era,” said Maggie Feinstein, director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership, formed to help those affected by the synagogue shooting and hate crimes. The goal this year was to “come together safely. It’s been a long road of not being able to do that.”

Bowers’ lawyers and federal prosecutors were in a Pittsburgh courtroom this month to argue whether incriminating statements he made at the scene can be used against him.

Some members of the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light congregations say their grief has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic because it further isolated them from one another and from in-person worship.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life, who survived the attack, said the dual traumas have left congregants at various stages of recovery.

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