Pittsburgh synagogue attack survivors testify about overcoming wounds both physical and emotional

Survivors of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attack are testifying to the severe physical and emotional injuries they suffered during the deadliest antisemitic massacre in U.S. history

Peter Smith
Wednesday 19 July 2023 19:22 BST

Officer Tim Matson described in federal court Wednesday how he has tended a weed growing on his porch in the years since his body was shattered by bullet wounds in the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, saying the hardy plant helped to restore his will to live.

Matson was shot in his head and body on Oct. 27, 2018, when he and other police officers charged into Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue to halt the massacre that left 11 worshippers dead. The SWAT police officer was hospitalized for months, endured off-the-charts pain and underwent 25 surgeries. He had to relearn how to walk on his wounded leg.

And the wounds were more than physical. “I was in a pretty dark place,” he testified.

Robert Bowers was convicted in June for the killings that Sabbath morning, as well as for injuring Matson, other officers and worshippers — 63 counts in total. Jurors last week found him eligible for the death penalty and must next consider whether to put him to death or sentence him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Multiple family members of the slain and survivors have testified this week to the lingering impact of the attack.

“I got to the point where I had enough, I was in constant pain, I knew I would never be the same,” Matson testified, admitting to having thoughts of suicide. But when he walked in his yard, which a friend had recently weed-whacked, he saw one weed in a bucket that was still growing.

He considered it a seriously tough weed. “Somebody tried to kill it,” yet it survived on its own, he said. Matson realized then the importance of the family and colleagues who were supporting him.

“I was like, man, it’s time to get to work, get my boots on the ground,” he said.

Matson recommitted to his rehabilitation, and has tended to the plant ever since, deciding: “This weed needs a buddy.”

Matson said he remains in constant pain, even after returning to work, but that going to therapy has helped him “mourn the loss of the old me and learn to accept the new me.”

Also testifying Wednesday was Andrea Wedner, who was shot in the attack that killed her mother, 97-year-old Rose Mallinger.

Wedner still carries gunshot shrapnel in her arm and had to retire as a dental hygienist years earlier than planned. She has regained only partial use of her hand, which tires easily and is sensitive to cold and heat. The injuries are constant reminders of the attack.

She can't bring herself to attend services as regularly as she did with her mother, whom she misses dearly. “I’m haunted by what happened to me and by what I saw and what I heard that day,” she said.

Prosecutors indicated Tuesday that they expected to finish calling witnesses Wednesday.

Also testifying were members of the families of Dan Stein and Cecil and David Rosenthal, who were among those killed.

"Words such as devastated, heartbroken, traumatized, they don’t scratch the surface," said Michele Rosenthal, sister of Cecil and David.

Sharyn Stein, widow of Dan Stein, said she and her husband “were a team.”

“My world has fallen apart,” she said.


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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