A rabbi who was held hostage by a British man during an almost 11-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue has revealed how he and his fellow hostages managed to escape when he threw a chair at the gunman.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker spoke to CBS Mornings on Monday about the “terrifying” ordeal, which unfolded at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, close to Fort Worth, on Saturday.
He was one of three hostages still being held more than 10 hours after the gunman, identified as 44-year-old British man Malik Faisal Akram, first took four worshippers at gunpoint during the Shabbat service.
The rabbi said that they were becoming increasingly “terrified” during the last hour of the ordeal because the gunman “wasn’t getting what he wanted” and “it didn’t sound good”.
At that point, the rabbi decided that he needed to take action.
“The last hour or so he wasn’t getting what he wanted, it didn’t look good, it didn’t sound good,” he said.
“We were terrified. When I saw an opportunity where he wasn’t in a good position, I made sure that the two gentlemen who were still with me, that they were ready to go, that the exit wasn’t too far away.”
Rabbi Cytron-Walker recalled telling the other hostages to get ready to run, before hurling a chair at their attacker.
“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.”
The three hostages managed to get to the safety of law enforcement outside the building at around 9:30pm on Saturday night.
The fourth hostage had been released by Akram hours earlier, at around 5pm.
Officers then stormed the building and the gunman was shot and killed.
The rabbi credited his training as a clergy leader as well as different courses he had taken with officials in recent years for his calm and quick-thinking decision that led to him and the two other hostages fleeing to safety.
He said part of his training as clergy is to have a “calm presence” so he “did the best I could to do that throughout the standoff”.
He has also attended courses with the FBI, the Colleyville Police Department, the Anti-Defamation League and Secure Communities Network in recent years, he added.
“They really teach you in those moments that when your life is threatened, you need to do whatever you can to get to safety. You need to do whatever you can to get out,” he said.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker told Gayle King that he had welcomed the suspect into the synagogue when he knocked on the door that morning.
He made the suspect a cup of tea and spoke to him for some time before the service began, he said.
“When I took him in, I stayed with him. Making tea was an opportunity for me to talk with him,” he said.
The rabbi said that “in that moment, I didn’t hear anything suspicious” but admitted that Akram’s story “didn’t quite add up”.
“So I was a little bit curious but that’s not necessarily an uncommon thing,” he said.
It was only after prayers had begun that the suspect pulled out his gun, he recalled.
“I heard a click, and it could have been anything. And it turned out that it was his gun,” the rabbi said.
The service was being streamed on Facebook Live as the attack unfolded and the hostage-taker was heard shouting on the livestream before Facebook shut it down.
For the next 10-plus hours, the rabbi said that he and the other hostages were in a “terrifying” situation.
“It was terrifying. It was overwhelming and we’re still processing. It’s been a lot. It’s completely overwhelming,” he said.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker said, while their lives were threatened during the entire ordeal, the gunman did not physically hurt him or the other hostages.
“We were threatened the entire time. But no, fortunately, none of us were physically injured,” he said.
Investigations are now under way on both sides of the pond after it emerged that Akram was a British man from Blackburn, the UK, who travelled to the US two weeks before the attack.
Authorities believe he flew into JFK Airport in New York before buying the firearm he used in the attack.
A motive for the attack is unclear, with US officials giving somewhat contradictory statements on where the evidence is pointing.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan described the hostage situation as an “act of antisemitism” and “terrorism”.
Meanwhile, the FBI said it believes Akram’s motive was “not specifically related to the Jewish community”.
President Joe Biden condemned the attack, calling it an “act of terror”.
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