Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, among four people held hostage at his Congregation Beth Israel, has given his first on-camera interview since Saturday’s crisis in Texas.
Remembering the moment the gunman revealed himself as a threat, the rabbi tells CBS: “It was during prayer, my back was turned. we face towards Jerusalem when we pray… I heard a click, and it could have been anything and it turned out it was his gun.”
He then recounts the moments when he realized he and the other hostages must escape from their captor.
“The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted. He was getting… it didn’t look good, it didn’t sound good. We were very — we were terrified,” Cytron-Walker says.
“And 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, that they were ready to go, the exit wasn’t too far away,” he recalls (the fourth person has been released by the attacker earlier).
“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 even a shot being fired.”
The moments in which the three hostages flee the building can be seen in this video. Three people run out a door. A fourth follows them but then stops at the door and runs back in.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) January 16, 2022
Cytron-Walker earlier credited security courses he had taken for helping them flee.
“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.”
The rabbi says the hostages are still reeling from their ordeal, noting that “It was terrifying, it was overwhelming. We’re still processing. It’s been a lot.”
Asked how he managed to remain calm during the long hours of being held at gunpoint, he says: “I guess you do what you have to do. As part of Rabinnic training, as part of training as clergy we talk a lot about the idea of being a calm, non-anxious presence.”