ALLEN G. BREED and MARYCLAIRE DALE Associated Press Breaking By ADAM GELLER Crime General news Massacres National North America Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Pittsburgh synagogue massacre religion Religious issues Religious strife Shootings Social affairs Social issues United States Violent crime War and unrest

‘I’m going to die:’ Survivors relive horrors at Tree of Life

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Associated Press Photo

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, proper, of Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha Congregation hugs Rabbi Cheryl Klein, left, of Dor Hadash Congregation and Rabbi Jonathan Perlman throughout a group gathering held within the aftermath of a lethal capturing at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. (AP Photograph/Matt Rourke)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Up within the choir loft, alone, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers whispered to a 911 dispatcher on his cellphone.

Under him, down within the sanctuary, eight of his congregants had been felled by a gunman’s bullets. Up right here, although, Myers couldn’t see them — or any of the opposite horrors going on past his hideaway. He might solely pay attention. He waited for an additional spherical of semiautomatic gunfire, however all was silent. Then he heard what he feared much more.

Might that be footsteps?

Myers rushed into the loft’s rest room, barricading himself inside.

Days earlier he had used a weblog posting to urge members of his Tree of Life congregation to rejoice life’s moments whereas that they had the prospect: “None of us can say with certainty that there is always next year,” he wrote. Now, Myers questioned if he ought to cling up with 911 and make a video to inform his spouse and youngsters he beloved them, whereas he nonetheless had time.

“I’m going to die,” he thought.

Saturday morning — the time when Jews in communities like this one come collectively to rejoice the miracle of the earth’s creation and the day of relaxation that adopted — had barely begun.

As a light-weight rain fell over the Tudors and Victorians of Pittsburgh’s leafy Squirrel Hill, the parking zone at the Tree of Life Synagogue had been sluggish to fill in. There was nothing uncommon about that. Formally, providers start at 9:45 for Tree of Life and the 2 different congregations that share its giant stone constructing — New Mild and Dor Hadash. Worshippers from all three have been filtering in, many of them older, taking their time.

The synagogue has lengthy been one of the touchstones of Squirrel Hill, a rolling neighborhood about 5 miles east of downtown that’s the middle of the town’s giant Jewish group. Based in 1864, Tree of Life prides itself as a heat, welcoming place, “where even the oldest Jewish traditions become relevant to the way our members live today,” it says on its web site.

On Saturdays, the day of the Jewish Sabbath, its doorways are unlocked and open to all. On today, the New Mild congregation gathered in a basement room. Upstairs, towards the entrance of the constructing, the worshippers of Dor Hadash ready for a ceremony to identify a new child boy. And in the primary sanctuary, Myers convened a few dozen of his congregants.

Outdoors the constructing, although, Robert Gregory Bowers was additionally aware of the Saturday rituals. For months, the 46-year-old truck driver had been posting indignant rants towards Jews on the Gab social media website, to little obvious discover. He blamed Jews for plotting towards society, contaminating it so as to destroy it.

At 9:49 a.m. Saturday, he posted once more.

“I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” Bowers wrote. “Screw your optics. I’m going in.”

Contained in the synagogue, New Mild’s rabbi, Jonathan Perlman, was just some minutes into morning prayers when his congregants heard a loud bang. Barry Werber, an Air Drive vet who was there to assist mark the anniversary of his mom’s demise, thought at first that somebody may need walked right into a cart upstairs stacked with glassware and whiskey meant for the baby-naming ceremony. To Myers, it seemed like any person within the hallway had knocked over a coat rack.

Then the sounds got here once more, this time in a burst.

Werber and different worshippers opened a door main into the basement hallway. A physique lay on the staircase. Their rabbi shortly closed the door and pushed Werber and fellow congregants Melvin Wax and Carol Black into a big provide closet. As gunshots echoed upstairs, Werber dialed 911 however was too afraid to say something, for worry of making any noise.

The primary name to an emergency dispatcher got here in at 9:54: Lively shooter at Tree of Life. Twenty photographs fired within the foyer, perhaps 30.

9 minutes had handed since worship was scheduled to start.

In the primary sanctuary, Myers informed his congregants to drop to the ground. “Don’t move. Be quiet.”

Though he was their chief, Myers was nonetheless new to Tree of Life. A local of Newark, New Jersey, he had been educated as a cantor — the clergyman charged with main Jewish congregations in music. For years, he labored within the New York space, then close to Atlantic Metropolis. However watching some synagogues shut and others consolidate, he determined to broaden his resume and sought ordination.

When his earlier congregation eradicated the cantor’s submit as a result of of budgetary pressures, Myers discovered his first job as a rabbi in a metropolis he knew little about. He and his spouse, Janice, had moved to Pittsburgh a yr earlier to begin a brand new and considerably unlikely chapter for a pair whose two youngsters have been already grown.

Now, nonetheless close to the entrance of the sanctuary, he led a gaggle of worshippers by means of some close by doorways that he knew would get them outdoors, to security.

Then he turned again. Eight congregants remained inside, close to the again of the room closest to the foyer — the place the gunfire was getting louder.

“I knew at that point there was nothing I could do,” Myers would say later.

From the entrance of the sanctuary, Myers scrambled up the slender stairs main to the choir loft.

Unseen to him, the stocky, square-jawed Bowers stalked the constructing, armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle and three handguns.

In an upstairs rest room, custodian Augie Siriano heard 4 or 5 distinctive pops and went to examine, threading via a sanctuary and foyer towards the chapel the place Tree of Life’s service had been reduce brief.

“I turned and looked and there was a gentleman lying face down, coming out of the doors of the chapel, and he had blood coming out of his head,” Siriano stated in an interview with Pittsburgh tv station WTAE. “As soon as I seen that, I turned and headed in the other direction, toward the exit doors.”

Within the pitch black of the basement closet, all turned silent. Might it’s over? Werber and the others hidden there waited, earlier than the aged Wax determined to verify and opened the door. A blast of bullets drove him backward, and people contained in the closet watched their pal fall to the ground. The gunman, stepping over his physique, moved towards them.

Within the darkness, Werber held his breath. He nonetheless had the 911 operator on the road. However his previous flip telephone had no mild on it, and he and the others have been drawn deep within the shadows.

They might see, framed in a sliver of mild from the doorway, the inventory of Bower’s rifle and his jacket, however little else. Might he see them? Because the seconds ticked by, Werber waited for the gunman to spray the closet with bullets. “I’m barely breathing,” Werber would later recall. Then Bowers turned his again and walked away.

Outdoors, police cruisers and tactical automobiles flooded into the blocks across the intersection of Shady and Wilkins avenues. Close by, Michael Aronson, a long-ago paramedic turned accounts supervisor, ordered his daughters, ages 6 and eight, into the basement, asking them to keep in mind what they’d discovered in class lockdown drills. He flipped via channels on his police scanner, as chatter ramped up in depth.

“We’re under fire,” an officer radioed in at 9:59 a.m.

“Every unit in the city needs to get here now!” one other officer stated minutes later.

Judah Samet, a member of the Tree of Life congregation for 54 years, is nearly all the time on time for providers, however his housekeeper had delayed him. The 80-year-old, who survived the Bergen-Belsen focus camp, was simply pulling right into a handicapped spot when a person knocked on the window: “You can’t go into the synagogue. There’s a shooting.”

Samet noticed what he later realized was a plainclothes officer, pistol drawn, exchanging hearth with an assailant. For the second time in his life, Samet was face-to-face with evil.

Again inside, Werber and the others waited. The closet had a again door, Werber recalled, however within the darkness he couldn’t see it. Perlman, the rabbi, managed to discover his means out at some level. However the different two remained till police got here to lead them out.

“I lost my yarmulke in the process,” Werber stated. “I still had my prayer shawl.”

When police tactical groups entered the synagogue, a spent ammunition journal lay within the hallway — and 4 our bodies have been sprawled throughout the atrium.

Bowers exchanged extra gunfire, then retreated to the third flooring. 4 officers have been wounded earlier than authorities cornered the gunman.

At 11:08, Bowers, bleeding from wounds, crawled from his hiding place and raised his arms.

“All these Jews need to die,” he stated to an officer.

In the long run, 11 individuals did lose their lives at Tree of Life in an assault officers have labeled the worst single act of violence towards Jews in America because the nation’s founding. The victims included Dor Hadash congregant Jerry Rabinowitz, who reportedly went in to attempt to assist the wounded, in addition to three members of New Mild: Richard Gottfried, a dentist wanting forward to retirement; Dan Stein, a brand new grandfather; and Wax, a retired accountant who was a “gem and gentleman,” Werber stated.

Seven of the eight Tree of Life congregants who couldn’t make their means out of the sanctuary additionally have been slain, and one was wounded however lived. The killed embrace brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, who’re to be laid to relaxation Tuesday, and a pair, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, each of their 80s.

On Monday morning, Myers stood at a road nook outdoors of the synagogue, the place memorials formed just like the Star of David had been positioned alongside the sidewalk — one to honor every of these killed. He talked concerning the funerals to come and the troublesome days and weeks forward, however vowed: “Here in Pittsburgh, hate will not triumph. Love will win out.”

Then he pointed to the constructing named for the tree at the guts of the Previous Testomony’s Backyard of Eden.

“I looked at this and I said, ‘Oh my God, this is a giant mausoleum,” he stated. However then, he realized, he was fallacious.

“Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years. We’re not leaving this corner,” he stated. “We will be back and will rebuild, even stronger.”


Additionally contributing have been AP reporters Mark Scolforo, Mark Gillispie and Claudia Lauer.


For AP’s full protection of the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings:

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