When the hostage situation at a Texas synagogue ended Saturday night, it had sounded as if the hostages had been rescued by an FBI team. In reality, the hostages managed to escape unharmed, in great part due to the quick-thinking actions of a rabbi who was among the four Jewish congregants taken captive at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, which is around 25 miles west of Dallas. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told CBS News on Monday that he threw a chair at the hostage-taker to help he and the two other hostages exit the building.
Cytron-Walker said he and the two other hostages who were there throughout the nearly 11-hour standoff grew increasingly “terrified” as the hours ticked on. “The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were very, we were terrified,” Cytron-Walker said. The fourth hostage had been released a few hours earlier, unharmed. The rabbi said he made sure the other hostages were ready to run and they were close to the exit. “I told them to go, I threw a chair at the gunman, and I headed for the door,” he said. “And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.”
Another man who was held hostage, Jeffrey R. Cohen, described what he lived through in a Facebook post. “First of all, we escaped. We weren’t released or freed,” Cohen wrote. In another post, Cohen describes how he deliberately made every effort to stay as close to the exit as possible and how he and the other hostages kept “the gunman engaged.” But then “things began to devolve” and that’s when the rabbi “yelled run.”
Cytron-Walker explained he invited the hostage-taker into the synagogue on Saturday morning because he thought he might need shelter. He even made him a cup of tea. “When I took him in, I stayed with him,” the rabbi said. “Making tea was an opportunity for me to talk with him. In that moment I didn’t hear anything suspicious.” He didn’t realize anything was off until the prayer service had already started. “I heard a click, and it could have been anything. And it turned out that it was his gun,” he said. Cytron-Walker credited the numerous courses he has attended about safety with teaching him how to properly react in this type of situation. “They really teach you in those moments that when your life is threatened, you need to do whatever you can to get to safety,” he said.
The hostage-taker has been identified as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national who was killed after the hostages ran out of the synagogue. The FBI called the hostage-taking a “terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted.” His brother, Gulbar Akram, said his brother had distanced himself from the family in recent years. “He had mental health issues,” his brother said in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s well known, everybody in the town knows, he has mental health issues.”