HOUSTON - After a grueling Saturday, when four people were taken hostage at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, located in Central Fort Worth, local religious leaders are still reeling from the aftermath but relieved none of the victims were harmed.
Police confirmed the four people taken hostage during services at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville were rescued after more than 10 hours after authorities were called to the scene Saturday morning.
News of the hostage situation prompted several Texas leaders to issue messages of solidarity, hoping everything resolved peacefully.
Rabbi David Lyon with Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, for example, said though the incident occurred outside of Houston, it didn't stop him from worrying about his religious kin.
"When [crimes like this] happen to one of our own friends and colleagues, and not too far from home, we really shutter when we think about what the experience might be," he explained. "And while we prepare ourselves, and we strengthen the boundaries of our congregations, where we worship and gather, it really shakes us to the core, and raises questions about whether we are truly prepared."
Initially, it was believed the gunman had ties to Houston, but those claims were since refuted. Still, local law enforcement officials ramped up visible officer presence as a precaution including Harris Co. Pct. 1 Constable Alan Rosen.
A little after 6:15 p.m., one of the male hostages was released, uninjured. Negotiations continued for the other hostages, and just after 9 p.m., an FBI rescue team entered the synagogue and rescued the three other hostages. We're told the hostage-taker, later identified as Malik Faisal Akram, 44, a British national, died as a result.
"After all of this news, very grateful, very grateful that the outcome allowed for the rabbi and members of his congregation to leave unharmed," Rabbi David noted. "We're always saddened by the loss of any life. But the result was satisfying to the community that good people aiming to do good things for each other, and for others are, but continue to be a part of our thriving community."
"I'm so glad it turned out the way that it did that all the hostages were, were safe and secure," Constable Alan Rosen added during an interview Sunday. "And they were able to, you know, get through a horrible ordeal. And, you know, the threat was neutralized, law enforcement did its job and did an exceptional job of doing it. They were patient, and they were methodical. And they did what they are trained professionally to do."
Authorities are still investigating the motive for the attack. The services were being live-streamed, and one of the law enforcement officials said the hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda, who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. military officers while in custody in Afghanistan. She is currently locked up at a federal prison in Texas.
Many city and state leaders were also standing by hoping the issue would resolve peacefully, which Rabbi David called a testament to how even in times of crisis, we can stand together regardless of creed.
"We can all feel overwhelmed, as polarized as we sometimes claim our country is, and in many regards, it is. We also are touched and moved by the product of the relationship building that we've done for years, not only between Jews and Christians and Muslims but between law enforcement, FBI, [American Defamation League,] and other sources of protection," he explained. "We talk to each other, we care about each other. And we have formed friendships and relationships that provide the kind of protection and security at precisely these times, and when it's a peaceful time without fear. We get to spend time with each other in meaningful ways that help us know that we're always there for each other, the best of times, and the worst of times."
And while the congregants of Beth Israel in Colleyville survived a traumatic experience, the prayers and calls for support remain stagnant.
"I want my congregation or any house of worship to know, as I also express my prayers to Rabbi [Charlie] Cytron-Walker and his congregation, I pray that even though they are safe, it doesn't mean that they are healed from this trauma," he said. "And they need the support that is professional and spiritual, that will enable them to feel comfortable to return to their house of worship again, pray as a community again and continue the good work that they were doing. I would say the same thing to my congregation."
Going forward, Rabbi David explained many temples and houses of worship should remain vigilant during times of crisis but maintain faith as well.
"Don't be afraid," he concluded. "We don't have to be heroes. But we should show up, be present, and not let this kind of behavior prevent us from living the kind of lives that we want to live and to trust each other the way that we should.