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Rabbi Recounts Escape From Synagogue Gunman

Charlie Cytron-Walker says he threw a chair at hostage-taker
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 17, 2022 2:34 PM CST
Rabbi Says He Threw Chair at Gunman During Escape
Police stand in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas.   (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker is being praised for his calm handling of the situation at the Texas synagogue where he was taken hostage along with three other people Saturday—and the rabbi credits his training. Cytron-Walker told CBS Monday that he waited until the gunman "wasn't in a position" and made sure that the two remaining hostages were near the exit and ready to run. "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." After the rabbi and the other two men escaped, the building was raided by an FBI hostage rescue team, reports Reuters. The gunman, later identified as British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, was killed. Authorities haven't disclosed whether he was shot by law enforcement or took his own life.

Cytron-Walker said he drew on training he had received over the years from the FBI, local police in Colleyville, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Secure Communities Network. "They really teach you in those moments that when your life is threatened, you need to do whatever you can to get to safety," the rabbi said. "You need to do whatever you can to get out." One hostage was released six hours into the 10-hour ordeal. Cytron-Walker said he and the other two men were "terrified" during the last hour of the standoff, because Akram, who had called for the release of jailed terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, "wasn't getting what he wanted." Authorities believe Akram targeted the Fort Worth-area synagogue because of its proximity to the federal prison where Siddiqui, a former MIT student, is being held.

The rabbi told CBS that when Akram knocked on the synagogue door Saturday morning, he thought the man was homeless and brought him in for a cup of tea. He said he didn't realize the man's intentions until he pulled out the gun during prayer service. "I heard a click, and it could have been anything. And it turned out that it was his gun," Cytron-Walker said. He said his rabbinical training also turned out to be very useful during the ordeal. "We talk a lot about being a calm non-anxious presence,” the rabbi said, per the Dallas Morning News. "We do that in hospital rooms, we do that during the most difficult of individual moments and I did the best that I could to do that throughout the standoff." Two teenagers arrested in the UK in connection with the standoff have been identified as Akram's children. (More Texas stories.)

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