"Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe." These were the words from Texas Governor Greg Abbott at the conclusion of a ten-hour hostage situation that began when a suspect entered the Congregation Beth Israel as the synagogue was livestreaming its Sabbath morning service on Facebook, which the congregation has been holding regularly since the beginning of the pandemic.
Joining local police, Texas State Troopers, FBI, ATF and SWAT, an interfaith team of local clergy worked with negotiators and assisted relatives of the hostages throughout the ordeal. This included Pastor Bob Roberts, a cofounder of Multi-Faith Neighbors Network; Rabbi Andrew Paley of Temple Shalom Dallas; and Imam Omar Suleiman, president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research.
The congregation, on Pleasant Run Road, is a Reform synagogue of about 125 families. Its first and only rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, a Michigan native, has been with the synagogue since 2006. He is married to Adena Cytron-Walker and they have two daughters. He attended Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion at its Jerusalem and Cincinnati campuses, receiving his rabbinical ordination in 2006.
Congregation Beth Israel was created in 1999 and did not have a full-time rabbi until Cytron-Walker was hired. The congregation initially met at Good Shepherd Catholic Community nearby until its synagogue was constructed in Colleyville, a city of about 26,000 residents some 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth.
Lindsey Weiss, who has attended the synagogue since she was 11, but recently moved away, said Cytron-Walker is a wonderful man.
“He’s really, really kind,” said Weiss, 27. “Kind doesn’t begin to cover it. He’s the nicest guy.”
Victoria Francis, who lives in Rhome, Texas, and grew up near Colleyville, watched about an hour of the livestream before it cut out.
She said she heard the man claim he had a bomb: “He was just all over the map. He was pretty irritated and the more irritated he got, he’d make more threats, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, this is all on you.’ And he’d laugh at that. He was clearly in extreme distress.” Francis said it sounded like the man was talking to the police department on the phone, with the rabbi and another person trying to help with the negotiations.
Authorities are still trying to discern a precise motive for the intruder’s actions.