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'Grateful to be alive': Rabbi in Colleyville hostage situation posts update after escaping synagogue

Charlie Cytron-Walker posted an update on his public Facebook page early Sunday morning

COLLEYVILLE, Texas — The rabbi who was reportedly among the four hostages at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville on Saturday said he's "grateful to be alive," and he credited his congregation's active-shooter training with helping them during the crisis.

Charlie Cytron-Walker posted an update on his public Facebook page early Sunday morning, thanking law enforcement and the prayers and support from people in the community.

"I am grateful for my family," Cytron-Walker said. "I am grateful for the CBI community, the Jewish community, the Human Community. I am grateful that we made it out. I am grateful to be alive."

I am thankful and filled with appreciation for All of the vigils and prayers and love and support, All of the law...

Posted by Charlie Cytron-Walker on Sunday, January 16, 2022

In a statement later Sunday, Cytron-Walker said his congregation had taken multiple security courses from Colleyville police, the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League to prepare them in the case of a situation which played out Saturday.

“We are alive today because of that education," Cytron-Walker said. "I encourage all Jewish congregations, religious groups, schools, and others to participate in active-shooter and security courses.”

Cytron-Walker said that the suspect "became increasingly belligerent and threatening" during the last hour of the hostage situation.

“Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself," Cytron-Walker said.

Michael Finfer, president of the Congregation Beth Israel, also issued a statement with Cytron-Walker, calling the hostage situation "a random act of violence."

"Indeed, there was a one in a million chance that the gunman picked our congregation," Finfer said. "Further, the FBI is confirming that the attacker appeared to be working alone."

Cytron-Walker's friends had told WFAA earlier in the day that they believed he was among the four people being held hostage inside the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville.

Around 5 p.m., one person was released safely, but three others remained. Then, shortly before 10 p.m., a hostage rescue team "breached the synagogue," according to authorities, and the remaining three hostages escaped safely. 

Cytron-Walker was believed to be among the three who escaped later in the evening, but the other hostages have not been identified.

Watch WFAA exclusive video of three hostages escaping from the synagogue:

Friends of Cytron-Walker were worried for him as the situation lasted through the evening.

Shahzad Mahmud told WFAA he's known Cytron-Walker for five to six years and that the rabbi is known for promoting interfaith peace and conversation.

"We were part of Interfaith, which he was instrumental in bringing the synagogue, the churches and the Islamic centers of Southlake and Colleyville," Mahmud explained. "And also, he's part of the Peace Together movement, same initiative bringing the different faiths together and just promote peace and harmony."

According to a biography on the synagogue's website, Cytron-Walker has been rabbi there since 2006 and is from Lansing, Michigan.

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, whose district covers a large part of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, also told WFAA that he has a close relationship with Cytron-Walker and his family.

"I know the rabbi, I know his wife very well. Our kids used to play together when they were young on Saturdays at playdates. So, a really great family," Veasey said. "Really praying this is resolved peacefully. Charlie's a great guy, really down-to-earth guy. His wife works at the Multi-Cultural Alliance, which is an organization that works to bring people of different faiths together."

"The synagogue that he leads there is one of the smaller synagogues in Tarrant County. Charlie really hit the ground running and worked just all the time to really get things going well there. I hate that he's having to go through this right now," Veasey said.

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