One of four hostages held at gunpoint inside a Colleyville temple for hours on Saturday shares his story of the harrowing ordeal.
Jeffrey Cohen said the suspected hostage taker identified by authorities as Malik Faisal Akram arrived at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville before him, looking for a place to warm up.
“We invited him in. The rabbi gave him a cup of tea, let him sit in the back. When I walked in, Rabbi Charlie waved me over to say hello, as I am one of the congregants. I’m vice president, so I would normally greet someone,” Cohen said on MSNBC Tuesday morning. “I went and had no reason to assume he was anything other than what he said. His eyes weren’t cast or anything. His hands weren’t shaking or anything normal. He was quite jovial, he was friendly.
Less than an hour into their service on Saturday, Cohen recalled that they held an Ameda prayer where congregants stood and faced east towards Jerusalem.
“It is part public and part private prayer, and we have entered into private prayer. I had walked through mine and sat down and then we heard…or I heard that confused click of a semi-automatic loading, but that was out of context. It made no sense,” he said. “Very soon after, he [Akram] started screaming.
Cohen said he started dialing 911 on his phone, which was returned with the screen off.
“He [Akram] was calling for us to come to the back, so I step out of the row of chairs I was in and move towards him a bit but position myself very strategically in line to get to the exits,” he said. -he declares.
Cohen said it was something their congregation was taught during their training and they were prepared to run during a crisis situation.
“All the time I was focused, what do I have to do to get out of it? Equally important, there were several opportunities where I could have just run, but then I would have left my friends behind,” he said. “He [Akram] probably would have shot someone. It’s pretty scary to think about.
Greg Shaffer is a founding partner of the Dallas-based Shaffer Security Group, which is a risk management and security consulting firm. Shaffer, a retired FBI agent who spent six years on the FBI’s hostage rescue team, said Saturday’s incident at the Colleyville Temple is a key reason training is essential. .
“I like to tell people in my training classes, you’re not going to come up with a plan in the middle of a crisis. You must have thought about what your actions will be before the critical incident,” Shaffer said. “I relate this to something we’ve all learned since we were 3 years old. If your clothes catch fire, what is the procedure? You stop, drop and roll. We were told that since we were 3 years old, we no longer have this fear of catching fire because we have a plan in place. It’s the same for active shooters or hostage situations like this.
Plans need to be developed, communicated and put into practice before crisis situations arise, Shaffer added. He said the goal during an active shooter or other critical situation where hostages are involved is to get as many people out of the area as possible.
“You have to train the congregation, you have to train the ushers and the welcomers. You have to train the leaders of the synagogue, the church, or the office building, and they all have to be on the same page,” he said. “On average, the hit rate on a moving target by a shooter with a handgun is 4%. The success rate is 4%. So you have a 96% chance of not getting shot doing one thing. It’s running.
Often, Shaffer said places of worship can run into the dilemma of preparation.
“They want to be a place that welcomes everyone. So they have a very difficult balance of being perceived and looked at and welcoming to strangers, but at the same time balancing this need for security, where they have to control and control whoever enters their building,” he explained.
This week, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker spoke publicly for the first time describing how he and two members, including Cohen, of his congregation eventually managed to escape. The decision was made to throw a chair and chase after Akram as he melted after hours of bargaining with law enforcement, he said.
“If he had tried this earlier while negotiations were still ongoing, there might have been a different outcome,” Shaffer said. “So they waited for the right moment when he knew the negotiations were breaking down and the hostage taker was probably expressing violent intent.”
Cohen added on Tuesday that he’s not the kind of person “who can just forgive, so I can’t say I forgive him. [Akram].”
“First of all, he was mentally ill. His brother said so. The way he behaved makes me believe it. Second…wasn’t your typical, ‘I want to kill all these Jews.’ It wasn’t him. He came to the Jews because he bought into these very dangerous stories that the Jews control the world, the banks and the media. We as good people, and we as patriotic Americans, have to challenge these things when we hear them,” he said. “These words have consequences. They play on people’s ears. They play on people’s fears, and it leads to actions like this where people believe that if they want to perform a political act…terror towards one group or another… in this case, towards the Jews, is not only able. It will be accepted.”