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Rabbi says he threw chair at gunman before escaping Texas standoff

CBS News logo CBS News 1/18/2022 Nelson Oliveira

A rabbi who was among the four hostages held during a nearly 11-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue managed to escape after throwing a chair at the gunman, he told "CBS Mornings" on Monday.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said he and the two other remaining hostages were "terrified," especially during the last hour of the standoff Saturday night because the suspect "wasn't getting what he wanted." It was at that point that Cytron-Walker saw an opportunity to act.

The rabbi said he first made sure the other hostages were ready to run and that the group wasn't too far from 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."

It was shortly after 9:30 p.m. local time that Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that all hostages at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville were "out alive and safe." A fourth hostage had been released earlier that evening. 

Authorities later said the suspect was dead. He has been identified as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national. Police did not comment on the motive, but White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan called the incident an "act of terrorism" and an "act of antisemitism."

The man took hostages during services that were being broadcast on a livestream. 

"It was terrifying," Cytron-Walker said. "It was overwhelming and we're still processing. It's been a lot."

When the man first knocked on the glass door of the synagogue on Saturday morning, the rabbi said he thought he might need shelter. Cytron-Walker let the man into the building and even made him a cup of tea.


Video: 2 Congregation Beth Israel Hostages Share Story Of Escape (CBS Dallas)

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"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."

Akram's story didn't quite add up, but Cytron-Walker said that type of visit was not necessarily uncommon. It was only during the prayer service that the gunman revealed his intentions.

"I heard a click, and it could have been anything. And it turned out that it was his gun," the rabbi said.

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Law enforcement officials have praised Cytron-Walker for remaining calm and collected during the ordeal. 

Cytron-Walker said his response was informed by different courses he has attended over the years with the FBI, the Colleyville Police Department, the Anti-Defamation League and 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. You need to do whatever you can to get out," he said. 

Despite the frightening, hours-long ordeal, the hostages were not hurt.

"We were threatened the entire time. But no, fortunately, none of us were physically injured," Cytron-Walker said.

The rabbi, who also spoke with President Biden on Sunday, thanked the many organizations and people who offered their support following Saturday's incident.

"I just want to give thanks and appreciation for all of the love and all of the support from the Jewish community, my people; from the Muslim community; from the Christian community; from all faiths, all backgrounds," he said. "Friends, acquaintances, strangers all over the world. It's truly been overwhelming."

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