CINCINNATI — Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was one of the four hostages held by a gunman at a Texas synagogue on Saturday, interned and took courses in Cincinnati earlier in his career.
Cytron-Walker was held hostage for 10 hours by Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national. The gunman had taken hostages after interrupting services as they were being live-streamed online at a the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Tx. Akram was later killed by an FBI rescue unit. All four hostages were able to escape the synagogue.
Rabbi Laura Baum, the head of school at the Rockwern Academy on Montgomery Road, was a classmate of Cytron-Walker's at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. She said Cytron-Walker had spent two years in the city at Temple Sholom as an intern. She said he was pivotal in bringing the LGTBQ community together at the congregation.
"I know I speak for many of us that we were glued to our TV screens yesterday," Baum said. "(We were) truly hoping for the best possible outcome on a terrible day."
Baum said she found out Cytron-Walker was one of the hostages after texting with a friend.
"(I) couldn't get my head around it," Baum said. "The fact that this was happening was unfathomable, and the fact I could picture my friend Charlie sitting there in that most horrible situation."
Cytron-Walker released a statement to CNN after the rescue. He said security courses he learned through local police, the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League had helped him cope while being held hostage.
"In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening," Cytron-Walker said in his statement. "Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself. I encourage all Jewish congregations, religious groups, schools and others to participate in active-shooter and security courses."
Baum said she couldn't imagine a person more suited to handle such a difficult situation.
The FBI told the Associated Press on Sunday that there was no indication Akram had any broader connections to other groups, but the agency planned a full investigation.