Jurors in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial heard Wednesday morning about the laborious, uncharacteristic and repetitive nature of evidence collection. Andrea Dammann, a recently retired FBI agent, described a nine-day process – beginning October 27, 2018 – of observing, photographing and documenting shell casings, weapons and personal effects located in and near the Tree of Life building .
Damon, a 30-year veteran of the FBI, testified that he received a call at approximately 10:38 a.m. on October 27, 2018, that there had been a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. She initially headed to the FBI’s Evidence Response Team office on the south side, before being redirected to the Tree of Life building. Arriving at 11:25 a.m., he was told that Pittsburgh police had secured the crime scene, taken the defendant into custody, cleared the building to make sure no one else was hiding and There is no other hazard at the site.
Damon – who had overseen other crime scenes and both trained and managed teams of FBI agents throughout his career – was also told that the Pittsburgh Police would turn over the scene to the FBI for processing and that Damon would oversee related activities.
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For the next nine days, Damon worked with the agents photographing and logging evidence. Some of the collected items, including the defendant’s weapons and ammunition, were sent to the FBI’s laboratory in Virginia for further testing. Other items were sent to the Allegheny County Crime Laboratory.
Damman said that when she first arrived at the Tree of Life building on October 27, she did a preliminary walk-through with Pittsburgh police. She brought along a photographer, and the two labeled each room, naming each of the 11 deceased victims and keeping notes about the “key things” seen.
Those observations, as well as the items recovered from the crime scene, formed the focus of Damman’s nearly three-hour testimony.
She told jurors that she went to the exterior of the building and saw the plate glass windows of the synagogue as well as bullet marks on the sidewalk. He observed that the defendant’s vehicle had already been opened and cleaned to ensure that no other hazards were present.
Dumman described how he then went through a complex process of evidence collection. He and the photographer designated each room in the synagogue—to ensure clear identification of the evidence to be retrieved. Damon and the photographer provided a label for each of the 11 victims—the deceased had not been identified by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner at the time. Damon oversaw that the synagogue was carefully measured so that the FBI lab could later perform scene-scaled diagrams. He also saw the hand sketches of the spot.
Throughout this process, Damon coordinated with around 60 individuals so that the objects were not compromised while taking the measurements.
“This is when the glamorous job of a crime scene investigator becomes too tiresome,” commented Acting US Attorney Troy Rivetti.
Damon described working with Mandy Tinkee of the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office.
While the medical examiner’s team worked through the night to identify the victims, Damon and the other agents tried to remain sensitive to Jewish burial customs.
“There was a Jewish organization that was there advising us on the proper methods and what they needed,” she said.
According to Jewish law, blood and other bodily contents must be buried with the deceased – to the best extent possible.
Dumman said that he and his team respected that principle as best they could.
She also described the weapons, shell casings, and personal effects of the defendant, which were each photographed and logged.
Along with viewing photographs of firearms and magazines, jurors saw photographs of the defendant’s vehicle, a 2016 Hyundai Sonata, parked outside the entrance to the Tree of Life.
Inside the car, Damon testified, was a green bag with shotgun shells and magazines, several pairs of safety glasses, a membership card for Anthony Arms—a West Mifflin-based gun store—a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, owned by the defendant. Paperwork indicating the vehicle, crates of various chemicals, cleaning supplies, a flashlight, shooting glasses, razors and ear protection for the shooter’s use while firing.
Damon testified about the laborious process of not only documenting each item, but also removing bullets and parts of bullets from walls, chairs, and even a tree outside the building.
The jury was shown photographs indicating several items that had been collected. Among many of the images, there were scattered Hebrew worksheets, strewn children’s books and displaced prayer shawls.
Before ending his testimony, Damon describes the defendant’s wallet. The contents included an Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office license to carry a firearm, a commercial driver’s license in the defendant’s name, and a US Concealed Carry Association membership card in the defendant’s name. Damon said that cataloging a crime scene is not like what is usually shown on television. “It’s not like where we walk into a crime scene with high heels and analyze the evidence and leave after 15 minutes with whatever we need.” pjc
Adam Reinherz can be contacted at [email protected],
This story is part of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle’s ongoing coverage of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial and Pittsburgh Union Progress in collaboration supported by funding from Pittsburgh Media Partnership,