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Pittsburgh synagogue shooting took 60 FBI agents 9 days to process

Sep 06, 2023Sep 06, 2023

Retired FBI special agent Andrea Dammann testified on Wednesday that it took nine days for more than 60 FBI officials, as well as staff from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office, to process the crime scene after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.

The work is much more painstaking than the sometimes glamorous representation of this work portrayed on TV, Dammann said.

Dammann arrived at the synagogue shortly after 11 a.m., and the FBI took over the processing of the crime scene from the Pittsburgh Police shortly after noon on the day of the shooting. The agency called in several additional teams from across the country, from Seattle to Washington D.C., in addition to its three crime scene teams based in the Pittsburgh region.

The FBI labeled every room with a particular letter, and sketch artists drew the layout of each floor of the building, including the position of each of the 11 victims, Dammann said. They sent off every gun that was fired by an officer for testing to determine what their bullets looked like when fired. That helped them to identify bullets on the scene and to return those guns to officers as soon as they could, she said.

The FBI also helped the medical examiner's office to process the individual bodies, Dammann said. Although it was the medical examiner's office's primary duty — staff from the office worked throughout the night on the day of the shooting — the FBI helped to coordinate with members of the local Jewish community, ensuring that the bodies were treated in accordance with Jewish custom as much as possible. That included trying to pick up all body parts and blood to be buried with the victims, as Jewish custom dictates.

The FBI eventually took photos of every part of the crime scene and each piece of evidence from three angles and sometimes from a 360-degree vantage point, and then logged each of them according to what was depicted. In addition, the FBI used technology to create exact replicas of each room that were turned into official diagrams of the building, she said.

During the court session on Wednesday, several of the most important pieces of evidence — including the guns collected at the crime scene — were presented for the jury to see, including all of the different numbers on the packaging used to log and store them.

The prosecutors also meticulously displayed photos of all of the various bullet shells and casings found on the scene, including one found in a tree outside, and asked Dammann to verify what they were.

Prosecutors also produced photos of Bowers’ 2016 Hyundai Sonata, which investigators searched on the day of the shooting. Among the items photographed in the vehicle: a shotgun, a bag of ammunition, cigarettes, a lighter, cleaning supplies, protective shooting glasses, ear protection for a firing range, some razors and a membership card for Anthony Arms & Accessories, a firearms store in West Mifflin, which is now closed.

The government also showed a wallet found on the scene that included a driver's license and a license to carry a gun issued by the Allegheny County Sheriff's office — both bearing Robert Bowers’ name.