Psychologist Links Troubled Upbringing to Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter’s Mental Health

On Thursday, the defense brought a clinical psychologist who testified about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter’s problematic upbringing and how it increased his risk for mental illness. Dr. Katherine Porterfield testified at length about Robert Bowers’s childhood and adulthood, suggesting that he was transferred between treatment facilities due to the concern of instructors and others for his mental well-being. She also discussed her many unsuccessful attempts at suicide.

In an interview, Porterfield described Bowers’ suicide thoughts at age 10 as “remarkable and unusual.” I don’t want to live, he’s telling everyone, she said. During their presentation to the federal jury, Porterfield’s testimony comes as the defense argues that Bowers’ severe mental health problems necessitate a sentence of life in prison rather than the death penalty.

Meanwhile, the prosecution has alleged that the mass shooting was meticulously planned and that the defendant had the explicit objective that “All Jews had to die.” Bowers, 50, was found guilty on all 63 charges against him in June for the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history.

In this second phase of the trial, he faces the death penalty because 22 of the charges against him were serious offenses. On Thursday, Porterfield testified that Bowers’ first and fourth grade teachers had expressed worry about the boy’s emotional demeanor. According to Porterfield, Bowers’ mother Barbara Bolt was aware of her son’s social difficulties but chose to ignore or reject their attempts at help.

The tweet below confirms the announcement of the death sentence for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter:

According to Porterfield, Bowers’ “crisis point” occurred in eighth grade, when he chased his mother while carrying a flammable substance and tried to set it on fire. Porterfield noted that Bowers’ subsequent admission to the adult psychiatric department at McKeesport Hospital was “pretty unusual for a 13, just turned 13-year-old.”

“He’s out of control, he’s a completely out of control child,” Porterfield said. “What we’re seeing here is just poor emotional regulation. He cannot handle his feelings.” According to Porterfield, Bowers was diagnosed with depression and opposition at another psychiatric facility, where he exhibited unusual conduct, had few companions, and was criticized for his lack of social skills.

According to Porterfield, Bowers suffered from acute depression and extreme maltreatment from carers as a teen. She claimed he engaged in destructive behavior, including academic failure and many suicide attempts. According to Porterfield, two of the four attempted suicide before the age of 18. At one point, he took too many aspirin and passed out.

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For the other, Porterfield claimed that Bowers consumed grain alcohol while driving and then set himself on fire with a cigarette, resulting in extensive burns. She testified that Bowers’ erratic behavior persisted into adulthood because he had never received adequate treatment for his decades-long mental illness or his extremely low levels of functioning.

Additionally, Bowers was financially unstable and worked irregular jobs “on and off,” only staying at one bakery job for 15 years, as stated by Porterfield. After he was caught skimming money in 2004, he was dismissed. According to Porterfield, Robert Bowers’ problems went unaddressed because of the family’s history of substance misuse, violence, and insecurity.

According to Porterfield, Bowers’s high risk for developing severe mental illness and issues is due to a number of stressful life events and circumstances. In her cross-examination, federal prosecutor Nicole Vasquez Schmitt asked Porterfield if she had interviewed Bowers for her report. When asked, Porterfield just replied, “No.” She said that the defendant’s mother was a major resource for her testimony.

Schmitt questioned Porterfield on her notes about his mom, which stated that she is “impaired emotionally, cognitively, and socially.” The mother’s stories and accounts were then called into question by Schmitt. She also inquired as to whether Porterfield thought her feelings for her son led her to embellish the situation. Porterfield stated that the mother’s stories were credible in her opinion.

Psychologist Links Troubled Upbringing to Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter's Mental Health

‘Betrayal Trauma’

On Wednesday, Porterfield testified that Bowers was raised in an unstable home by his parents Barbara Jenkins and Randall Bowers. When a caregiver, rather than creating a caring environment, is a source of terror, misery, and anxiety, she said the “dose” of trauma actually counts. Betrayal trauma, she explained, is a real thing.

Porterfield claims that Randall Bowers’ upbringing was chaotic. She claimed he was admitted to the psychiatric facility at the Naval Base in Guantanamo. He had jumped from a ship into Guantanamo Bay after being freed from the psychiatric facility, she added. According to Porterfield’s testimony, both of his parents made death threats against him.

She claimed that Jenkins threatened to throw Robert out of the third-floor window of their flat. Additionally, Randall Bowers threatened to commit suicide by turning on the apartment’s gas. It was evident that these were “young parents who were clearly out of control,” she claimed.

According to Porterfield, when the parents divorced, Jenkins married Robert Saiter and went to a Florida trailer park with their kid. According to Air Force documents, Saiter was evaluated in a psychiatric hospital on an Air Force post and found to be unfit for duty. Porterfield gave evidence A court found Saiter guilty of child molesting and gave him a 17-year prison term.

According to Porterfield, Jenkins resorted to self-harm in front of Robert Bowers and was subsequently hospitalized for depression and anxiety after being released. According to Dr. Porterfield’s testimony, he also had disturbed grandparents. By the time she was three years old, Bowers had already been exposed to two “very mentally ill, violent men.”

According to Porterfield, both have been charged with sexual assault. According to Porterfield’s testimony, Bowers suffered from CTS after experiencing multiple traumatic events. She went on to say that every bad thing that happens to a kid makes things worse overall.

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