“To be honest, I didn’t see evil when I looked into Robert Bower’s eyes. I saw something else,” the nurse and rabbi’s son, Ari Mahler, wrote in an emotional Facebook post on Saturday, one week after the Oct. 27 attack at the Tree of Life synagogue left 11 dead and six injured.
“I can tell you that as his nurse, or anyone’s nurse, my care is given through kindness, my actions are measured with empathy, and regardless of the person you may be when you’re not in my care, each breath you take is more beautiful than the last when you’re lying on my stretcher,” wrote Mahler, who works at Allegheny General Hospital.
“This was the same Robert Bowers that just committed mass homicide,” he wrote of the shooting suspect. “The Robert Bowers who instilled panic in my heart worrying my parents were two of his 11 victims less than an hour before his arrival.”
Bowers, 46, who was charged in a 44-count federal indictment that includes obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs — a hate crime for which prosecutors said they would pursue the death penalty — has pleaded not guilty, reports USA Today. He faces a slew of state charges as well, court records show.
He is being held in jail with no bond.
Bowers, along with others injured the attack, was treated at area hospitals for wounds sustained on the scene.
“When he got out of the ambulance, I was told that he was screaming ‘kill all the Jews,’ ” Dr. Jeff Cohen, president of Allegheny General and a member of the Tree of Life congregation, previously told PEOPLE. “His nurse was Jewish, and his doctor in the emergency room was Jewish, and I’m Jewish.”
“I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish,” Mahler continued in his post last weekend, which has since gone viral. “Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse?”
“I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?”
“Love. That’s why I did it,” Mahler wrote. “Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings.
“I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything.”
RELATED: SWAT Team Evacuates Tree of Life Synagogue After Shooter Open Fires
According to his post, Mahler reluctantly went public with his identity only after he encountered multiple news reports about “the Jewish nurse.” (He did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for an interview and later wrote on Facebook that he has turned down all media offers.)
“When I was a kid, being labeled ‘The Jewish (anything),’ undoubtedly had derogatory connotations attached to it,” he wrote. “That’s why it feels so awkward to me that people suddenly look at it as an endearing term.”
He added: “I experienced anti-Semitism a lot as a kid. It’s hard for me to say if it was always a product of genuine hatred, or if kids with their own problems found a reason to single me out from others. Sure, there were a few Jewish kids at my school, but no one else had a father who was a rabbi. I found drawings on desks of my family being marched into gas chambers, swastikas drawn on my locker, and notes shoved inside of it saying, ‘Die Jew. Love, Hitler.’ “
“It was a different time back then, where bullying was not monitored like it is now,” Mahler recalled. “I was weak, too. Rather than tell anyone, I hid behind fear. Telling on the people who did this would only lead to consequences far worse.”
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“Regardless, the fact that this shooting took place doesn’t shock me,” he wrote.
“To be honest, it’s only a matter of time before the next one happens. History refutes hope that things will change. My heart yearns for change, but today’s climate doesn’t foster nurturing, tolerance, or civility. Even before this shooting took place, there’s no real evidence supporting otherwise. The FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center note that Jews only account for 2 percent of the U.S. population, yet 60 percent of all religious hate crimes are committed against them. I don’t know why people hate us so much, but the underbelly of anti-Semitism seems to be thriving.”
In a followup Facebook post on Monday, Mahler expressed thanks for the responses his message has generated.
“On some levels I feel vulnerable for sharing my heart with the world,” he wrote. “I had no idea it would reach so many people. Regardless of my own insecurities, however, I believe it was a message that needed to be shared.”
“People look for the world to change, and it cannot when we remain silent,” he wrote. “In that sense, I do feel a responsibility to continue to share this message. The ability to scream the loudest doesn’t make your impact the greatest. It’s the words that matter. The feelings behind them. The genuineness found in your heart.”