Pittsburgh rabbi recounts moment shooting began

Rabbi Jeffery Myers of the Tree of Life Synagogue describes how the tragic events at his place of worship began to unfold as a gunman opened fire on Jewish worshipers.

Posted: Oct 30, 2018 7:12 AM
Updated: Oct 30, 2018 7:17 AM

A rabbi who was inside Tree of Life synagogue when a gunman stormed the building said Monday that he tried to help worshipers escape -- once he realized the noise he heard was gunfire.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers told CNN's Alisyn Camerota that Saturday was a "typical Shabbat morning" when he began services for one of three congregations meeting in the Pittsburgh synagogue.

When he heard loud banging, he first thought the noise was a a metal coat rack that had fallen over, Myers said.

"I wasn't immediately concerned," he said -- until he saw people from other parts of the synagogue running down stairs.

"Another round of what I now knew was gunfire came out," he said. "I can't tell you how I knew it was gunfire because I've never heard gunfire before, but something told me that this was some sort of semi-automatic weapon.

"At that time, I instructed my congregants to drop to the floor, do not utter a sound, and don't move."

He said he hoped the heavy oak pews would offer protection. He tried to help people at the front of his sanctuary find exits and safe spaces so they could hide.

"I turned back to see if I could help the remaining eight people in the back of my congregation," he said. "At that time, I could hear the gunfire getting louder. It was no longer safe for me to be there and I had to leave them.

"One of the eight was shot and she's survived her wounds. The other seven of my congregants were gunned down in my sanctuary. There was nothing I could do."

Richard Bowers, 46, of suburban Baldwin was arrested inside the synagogue after exchanging gunfire with police officers who responded. He made anti-Semitic statements during the shooting and targeted Jews on social media, according to a federal law enforcement official.

Bowers faces 29 charges in a rampage. The attack is believed to be the deadliest on the Jewish community in US history, the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement.

Federal prosecutors have filed hate crime charges against Bowers.

Rabbi says Trump 'always welcome'

Myers split with some Jewish leaders, including a former president of Tree of Life, by telling Camerota that President Donald Trump is "always welcome."

Previously, leaders had stated the president was not welcome in PIttsburgh after the attack.

Former Tree of Life president Lynnette Lederman called Trump "the purveyor of hate speech."

Trump said Saturday that the outcome of the deadly shooting would have been different had an armed guard been in place and said the country should strengthen death penalty laws in the wake of the massacre.

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