Melvin Wax, an 88-year-old retired accountant, was one of 11 people killed when a gunman who often posted anti-Semitic slurs online opened fire during worship services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Oct. 27.
Six other people, including four police officers, were wounded in the attack.
Robert Bowers, 46, faces 29 criminal charges, including 11 charges of using a firearm to commit murder, weapons offenses, and charges alleging Bowers seriously injured police officers while obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs.
Federal prosecutors said they intend to pursue the death penalty.
Bowers appeared in federal court this afternoon for an initial hearing. A preliminary hearing in the case against him is scheduled for the morning of Nov. 1.
Those who knew Wax say he was a kind man and a pillar of the New Light Congregation, which rented space in the lower level of the Tree of Life synagogue. He took on so many tasks—from leading services to changing light bulbs—that one person described his role there as “everything but the cantor.”
In fact, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wax—who went by Mel—was leading Shabbat services in the basement of Tree of Life on Saturday morning when Bowers began shooting.
“If somebody didn’t come that was supposed to lead services, he could lead the services and do everything,” said Myron Snider, a friend of Wax’s and fellow congregant, who added that Wax usually attended services on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday each week.
He also remembered Wax for his thoughtfulness and generosity, even during tax season:
“He was such a kind, kind person,” Snider told the Associated Press. “When my daughters were younger, they would go to him, and he would help them with their federal income tax every year. Never charged them.”
The shooting victims ranged in age from 54 to 97.
Image: Getty Images/Jeff Swensen