For more than two months, family members of the 11 people killed in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, 2018, listened.
Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Dan Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger.
Their families listened as authorities and experts told them where their loved ones died — where they fell when they were shot, how long they lay there, who had to step over them to escape.
They listened as pathologists told them how their loved one died in graphic detail, explaining where they were shot, how many times they were shot, and what those bullets did to their bodies.
They listened as attorneys tried to explain why their loved ones were killed. Defense attorneys painted a picture of a trauma-filled childhood that led to severe mental illness in adulthood. Prosecutors said it was because he was a hateful antisemite who just wanted to kill Jews.
Finally, the families got to speak, first to jurors in controlled trial testimony and later to the judge and to the gunman himself just before he was sentenced to death by execution for his crimes.
They talked about the people their loved ones had been, both long ago and right up until their deaths. Some talked about the things those lost could have done or could have been.
Joyce Fienberg had rediscovered her faith after her husband died, and she loved her grandchildren something fierce. Rose Mallinger loved to dance at weddings and mitzvahs. She was supposed to dance at her granddaughter’s wedding.
Dan Stein was thrilled to have become a grandpa, but that was cut short. Irving Younger and Judith Kaye had found each other late in life but only got a few years together. “The Boys,” Cecil and David Rosenthal, were the center of their family’s world. Their parents are lost without them.
Three congregations worshipped inside the hulking synagogue at the corner of Shady and Wilkins in Squirrel Hill: Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light. The 11 people killed were some of the most dedicated congregants. They were there on time or earlier, setting up and making sure everything was prepared for Shabbat services.
And that’s who the case — more than 4 ½ years in the making — has always been about, U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan said hours after the jury came to its verdict.
The ones killed and the ones left behind.
“This case, at its core, is about the victims,” said Mr. Olshan, one of the prosecutors on the case. “The ones who are no longer with us and the ones who have so bravely and gracefully carried the trauma of that day every day. This case has always been about those who survived and those who bear witness for the 11 who did not.”
And, the families said, they will move forward.
“The synagogue will be rebuilt, the joy you took away will be reclaimed,” said Rose Mallinger’s son, Alan Mallinger. “My children will have their wedding there. Their children will have their bar and bat mitzvahs there.”
He said those of the Jewish faith have fought and suffered for thousands of years but prevailed. They did before Oct. 27, 2018, he said, and they will continue.
Anthony Fienberg described his 75-year-old mother as the Mary Poppins of their family, and she was the center of their universe.
“Everything was always taken care of,” he said.
Not only would Joyce Fienberg pack you a snack of carrots, she would cut them just so and leave a note telling you when to eat the carrots, her son said.
He, his wife and children have lived in France for decades, but each summer his five children spent two months with his mother. She was like the opposite of a hockey team, he said. Rather than spending 10 months playing and two months preparing for next season, his mother spent 10 months preparing for the two months with her grandchildren.
“She meant everything to the kids,” he said.
His younger brother, Howard Fienberg, said “doting” was the best word for his mother, a retired University of Pittsburgh researcher. “She was going to take care of everything, whether you liked it or not,” he said.
She kept in close touch with her sons and her grandchildren despite the distance separating them. “My mother treated email as long-form prose,” Howard Fienberg said. Later, when cell phones became ubiquitous, “every text was epic.”
Peg Durachko called him Rich. She addressed him as “Richard” only when she was mad at him.
He was the absolute love of her life.
The two met in dental school at the University of Pittsburgh, and she fell for the guy she would later describe as kind, loving, generous, smart, innovative, and good-looking.
They opened a dental practice together in 1984, where Rich became known for putting his patients at ease with a gentle touch and soft kindness. Ms. Durachko said patients would drive across state lines to be seen by her husband.
He had an absolute lust for life. In early 2018, he had surgery to repair muscles in both legs. His physical therapy goal was to be able to walk the steps to the the Parthenon on vacation that summer. He packed a cane for the trip but never used it, his wife said.
His sister, Carol Black, who survived the shooting that morning, said Rich, 66, was so much more than a little brother. “He was my friend,” she said.
Photos showed the brother and sister grinning at Pitt football games. Another shows him smiling easily at the camera, caught in a moment of near candidness.
“If you look at this picture, you can just see who he is,” Ms. Black said.
She was Bubbie to her grandchildren, and she loved to dance.
At 97, she was spry and sharp as a tack, and her family remembers her as the center of every family celebration.
Rose Mallinger’s favorite part of every meal was dessert, said her son, Allan, who shared a home with her in Squirrel Hill. She’d often put Twizzlers and M&Ms out for dessert appetizers.
Amy Mallinger loved to sit on her bubbie’s porch and check out passers-by together. “She loved to people-watch, so I learned to love to people-watch, too.”
The two women of different generations sat on that front porch often and they talked about everything: Squirrels, dogs, the neighbors, the future.
Photos that captured her during life found her dancing. In one, she’s striking a pose at her nephew’s bar mitzvah years earlier. Another show her at a more recent family function, needing the help of a family member’s arm and her cane, but doing the Chicken Dance nonetheless.
Jerry Rabinowitz, a 66-year-old family physician with an easy smile, was pure happiness, his family said.
A doctor for decades, he considered himself a country doctor. He formed his own practice so he could practice medicine the way he thought it should be done, said his brother-in-law, Daniel Kramer, still making house calls right up until his death.
One of those house calls was for an older woman who lived alone and was quite lonely, Mr. Kramer said. Jerry would go over after a full day in his office, take her blood pressure, drink the tea she made, hold her hand and talk.
“That’s the kind of doctor Jerry was,” he said, but noted his brother-in-law called himself “doc,” not “doctor.”
One photo presented in court featured Jerry in his office, a stethoscope slung around his neck and a wide smile reaching all the way up to his eyes.
“He was so happy to be a doctor, and he was so happy to have his patients,” Mr. Kramer said.
“That smile. I can’t remember a time he wasn’t smiling.”
Cecil Rosenthal, 59, was a social butterfly and a talker, said his sister, Michele Rosenthal. He and his brother, David, both had a genetic condition called Fragile X syndrome, but they didn’t let that stop them.
While Michele was playing with other kids in their Stanton Heights neighborhood growing up, Cecil stayed on the porch, gossiping with his mother and the other neighborhood ladies.
Each Saturday, he greeted congregants at the synagogue that he and his brother loved so much. He’d get a kiss on the cheek from some of the women, and he joke in his own way with others who came in. “Does your wife know you’re here?” he’d ask.
Neither brother could read, but they relished singing and joining in during services. They wanted their prayer books open to the correct page, even if they couldn’t read the words. They knew the texts by heart.
As adults, both were doting uncles. Their other sister, Diane Rosenthal, said she has two daughters, and though her brothers didn’t quite understand the differences between aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, they were gentle and loving.
David Rosenthal, 54, was the shy brother, at least until he got to know you. Then he always wanted to be part of the group, his family said.
David, like his brother, had Fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that caused intellectual and some physical disabilities. He loved to help his mother in the kitchen when he and Cecil would spend weekends at their home.
He absolutely loved the nearby firehouse, part of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire. If he didn’t come home for dinner, a call to the fire station would often be answered with, “Don’t worry, he’s having dinner here,” his family said.
David was also the trickster.
One recent Thanksgiving, in the years after the two brothers were killed, their sister Diane Rosenthal happened to be searching for her rental car keys. The family tore the house apart looking everywhere.
As the family sat on the couch — a couch they’d already dug through looking for the missing keys — someone lifted a cushion.
There were the keys.
“Someone said, ‘That’s probably David.’”
Bernice Simon was the glue that held her family together.
She made great chocolate cake and great mashed potatoes.
She was her daughter’s best friend.
Michele Weis remembers speaking on the phone to her 84-year-old mother two or three times each day. She said she still often wants to pick up the phone and talk to her.
“She was my person I would call, vent to, just talk to.”
Bernice was a nurse until she retired in 1999, and then she went on to volunteer as a reading tutor for elementary school students.
Bernice and her husband, Sylvan, met on a blind date in 1955, marrying a year later in the Tree of Life synagogue. They attended services almost every Saturday, and they parked the car in the same spot and sat in the same pews.
“They were very much in love, and they did everything together,” said their daughter. “Right up until the end.”
Michael Simon, too, spoke of his parents love for one another.
“They were a remarkable couple,” he said. “They were the poster people for being married and how you should treat each other.”
Sylvan, 86, was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army, and he was a dedicated accountant until his retirement in 1997. He loved to watch whatever Pittsburgh sporting event was on television, and the couple had season tickets to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
They continued to donate to charity even in retirement, and they liked to visit Michael Simon in California.
He said his parents were the center of the family’s universe.
Ms. Weiss said both of her parents suffered myriad health issues as they aged. Her mother had both knees and one hip replaced, but she never complained.
Her father had back and neck pain, and he’d had a hip replaced.
Did he complain about the pain? She was asked at one point during the trial.
“Constantly,” she said with a smile.
Dan Stein’s faith was deeply important to him, said his wife, Sharyn.
Each year on the anniversary of his bar mitzvah, he would go to synagogue and recite the part of the Torah he had read when he was 13. He kept the prayer book from his bar mitzvah, too, and after he performed that ritual every year, he’d write down the year inside the cover.
Dan, 71, asked little of others, but they were drawn to him. “People gravitated to him,” his wife said. “He liked a good laugh.”
And he was a helper, she said. He volunteered at the Jewish Community Center and at the food pantry.
Most people called him Dan. She called him Danny.
Joseph Stein called him Dad.
He told jurors about how much his father, a retired salesman, loved him and loved his sister. And he absolutely loved the brief time he got to be a grandfather.
“Danny took his responsibilities as a parent very seriously,” his wife said. “He was always there for [his son and daughter] growing up.”
A photo of Jodi Kart and her father, Melvin Wax, shows Ms. Kart as a small infant in her father’s arms. He is looking at her — glowing and smiling, completely taken with his daughter.
That look summed it up, she said. He didn’t always verbalize how much he cared for her, his only child, but he showed it. An accountant, he took her to work with him on Saturdays when she was growing up, and they’d lunch together.
A proud man who went to school on the G.I. Bill, he never bought something he didn’t need. If his watch stopped, he bought a new battery. If the leather wristband frayed, he bought a new wristband. If the leather on his shoes was still good, she said, he’d resole them rather than buy new ones.
When she went to his apartment after he was killed, she found a birthday card he’d already gotten for her on his nightstand. In it, the 87-year-old had written: “I love you very much.”
Mel was hard of hearing, and he loved jokes. It made for some interesting moments.
One fellow congregant recalled watching an interaction between Mel and Cecil Rosenthal one day. Mel told a joke. Cecil didn’t understand it. Mel couldn’t hear Cecil saying he didn’t understand it. They went round and round.
Jerry Younger said his father was always available if his son needed to call him, day or night, despite the three-hour time difference between their respective homes in California and Pittsburgh.
“I love my dad so much,” he said.
To his children, Irving Younger was “dad.” To Judith Kaye, he was “Irv.”
She called the 69-year-old retired real estate agent the late love of her life. They took solace in each other after Irv’s wife died and Ms. Kaye’s parents died.
“It took me 60 years to find him,” she said. “Anytime we went somewhere, it always felt like a first date.”
The Tree of Life synagogue became a haven after his wife died, Ms. Kaye said, and he was the self-appointed usher for the congregation. He would park himself toward the back of the chapel in which Tree of Life worshipped, handing out prayer books already turned to the right page and offering help to anyone who might need it.
Ms. Kaye called him a warm and gregarious man. He had two children and fostered several more over the years.
“It was an unconditional love that he had,” she said. “He was unselfish, warm, playful, generous.”
All photos were made public by the U.S. District Court of Western Pennsylvania, where they were submitted as case exhibits