Colleyville Rabbi Cytron-Walker: 'I threw a chair at him and we ran'

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was held hostage in the synagogue for almost 11 hours with three congregation members.

 Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. (photo credit: JTA)
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker.
(photo credit: JTA)

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of the Colleyville Beth Israel Synagogue told CBS that the community will definitely be going back to the synagogue after he and three other people were held hostage there for almost 11 hours on Saturday.

"We've experienced great difficulty and challenge as a people, and at the same time, we've experienced great resilience," he said. "[Going back to the synagogue] won't be an easy thing, but it's a really important thing. A synagogue is a house of assembly where we gather as a community and pray together."

In the interview, Cytron-Walker talked about the traumatic experience, saying that it was overwhelming, and they is still processing it.

He described how the gunman, identified yesterday as Malik Faisal Akram, knocked on the synagogue doors, posing as someone looking for shelter.

"When I took him in, I stayed with him," he recounted. "Making him tea was an opportunity to talk to him, and I didn't hear anything suspicious. Some of his story didn't quite add up, but that's not necessarily an uncommon thing."

 A law enforcement vehicle is parked at a school in the area where a man believed to have taken people hostage at a synagogue during services that were being streamed live, in Colleyville, Texas, U.S. January 15, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/Shelby Tauber) A law enforcement vehicle is parked at a school in the area where a man believed to have taken people hostage at a synagogue during services that were being streamed live, in Colleyville, Texas, U.S. January 15, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/Shelby Tauber)

It was plenty of time later, during prayer, that Akram turned on the people present in the synagogue. 

"I heard a click, and it could have been anything, but it turned out to be his gun," said Cytron-Walker.

Luckily for the hostages, the congregation had gone through courses with the FBI, Colleyville Police Department and Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to learn how to handle emergency situations involving guns.

They teach you that in that moment when your life is threatened, you need to do whatever you can to get to safety and get out," Cytron-Walker explained.

So after close to 11 hours of the standoff, with one hostage released earlier, Cytron-Walker saw an opportunity to get himself and the other two men left with him to safety, and he took it.

"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 and 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 were ready to go - the exit wasn't too far away - I told them to go, I threw a chair at the gunman, and I headed for the door, and all three of us were able to get out without a single shot being fired."

The hostages had to stay calm during the nearly 11 hours they were in danger. Cytron-Walker told CBS that it wasn't easy, but "part of rabbinic training is we talk about being a calm on an anxious presence" and he did the best he could.

He added that he was thankful for the fact that so few congregation members were present during the service because of COVID-19. He also reiterated his appreciation from a Facebook post he made after the standoff for the love and support they received from people of all faiths and backgrounds.