What began as a normal Saturday during a holiday weekend at the Congregation Beth Israel on Jan. 15 rapidly turned into an 11 hour hostage situation and an unexpected escape of those captive. Families gathered at the synagogue on a chilly morning to participate in Sabbath service, but by nighttime the town of Colleyville, Texas, would be drowned in catastrophe. The event involved a live streamed hostage taking, a subject of interest in Britain, an FBI rescue team, four hostages and sharp witted thinking from a rabbi that led to his and others’ freedom.
“I was shocked but just disappointed that this is such a recurring thing for places of worship; they’re supposed to be sanctuaries,” junior Teresa Morgado said. “I worry that every church and every mosque or synagogue isn’t safe now and there’s somebody who’s going to target us for our beliefs. It is scary, but it’s not going to stop me from going to church.”
On the morning of Jan. 15, a stranger arrived at the synagogue where Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was performing the service for that day. Cytron-Walker had welcomed the unidentified man with open arms, but he did not know of the harm to come. Due to the pandemic, many churches and synagogues have continued to do live streaming events, and Congregation Beth Israel was no exception. As Cytron-Walker started to perform the service with many worshipers watching the stream from elsewhere, he turned his back to pray to Jerusalem and heard a peculiar sound.
“I heard a click, and it could have been anything,” Rabbi Cytron-Walker said. “And it turned out that it was his gun.”
Before this act of terror, the perpetrator Malik Faisal Akram was banned from a United Kingdom courthouse because he remarked to one of the staff members that he wished they had been on one of the planes that fell into one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. During the horrific hostage event, he also appeared angry over Aafia Siddiqui’s imprisonment despite not having any relations with her. Siddiqui had been arrested in 2010 for attempting to murder American service members in Afghanistan. Akram wanted to talk to her, and he chose this synagogue because he believed that Jews controlled the world, media and banks. His statement demonstrates one of the many antisemitic beliefs that perpetuate Jewish stereotypes.
“I wanted to know more about it and what was going on. I was worried that there was going to be somebody dead,” history teacher Dr. Tim Fitzpatrick said. “The rabbi’s training kicked in. If someone comes into a room with a gun, you fight back. Don’t be a victim; you want to fight back. So, I think the rabbi was very smart about how he defused the situation and then was able to get out of there when he needed to.”
As Saturday afternoon rolled into nighttime, the hostage taker’s behavior began to change drastically. Akram demanded that the four hostages get down on their knees and that he would “put a bullet” in all of them. At this moment, it seemed as though this was the end for those hostages. Thanks to a beverage and a chair, however, everything changed. Cytron-Walker had received training from the Secure Community Network, the official safety initiative of the Jewish community in North America. He used his training he had learned to defend his fellow hostages and walked away with his life. While Akram was drinking, Cytron-Walker noticed that his gun was not in the best position to aim at them. So, he picked up a chair next to him and threw it at Akram before he and the other hostages fled the building. After their escape, a group of law enforcement went into the building, where they subsequently fired a series of shots that lead to Akram’s death. After hearing of the event, family members stated that Akram suffered from mental health issues due to losing one of his brothers and apologized to the victims.
“I feel like these types of hostage attacks always happen to people who are trying to extend their kindness,” senior Mercy Crapps said. “I hope this isn’t a lesson to other people that you shouldn’t be kind, because this is how you get repaid. There are precautions that we can take. We could always amp up security at schools, especially. But at the end of the day, we won’t be able to eliminate it completely because if someone is dedicated enough, they will find a way, which is horrible. So the only real way we could try to overcome this as an upcoming generation is if we foster those ideas of inclusivity, equality and how life matters. You can’t just take someone’s life just because you’re angry at the position you’re in.”