Wednesday, 14 Nov 2018
News

'I looked up, and there were these dead bodies': Witness describes the horror of synagogue massacre


He thought it was falling furniture. The morning service was just beginning on the second floor of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh 's Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Saturday when Joseph Charny heard loud noise from downstairs. "It sounded like some big thing falling over, like a coat rack," Charny said. There were about six to eight congregants bowing their heads in the pews, along with Charny, all of them waiting for the week to get started, Charny people well. A man appeared in the doorway. Charny does not remember him saying anything. Gunshots cracked across the chamber. "Said Charny, 90, retired psychiatrist from Squirrel Hill. "I was in the mood to stay there." So Charny ran away from the man, avoiding the bullets. 1.Witnesses report hearing the first shots in the lobby. Some escape through the sanctuary and the chapel. Pervin Chapel Room for up to 240 participants 2.Police receive the first call at 9:54 a.m. When they arrive, they confront the shooter somewhere near the entrance, and he opens fire on the officers. 3.A small SWAT team follows the shooter farther into the building and discovers the dead and injured. SWAT medics and officers extract the victims. 4.The shooter goes to the third floor, where he is found by officers. He opens fire on them, and two are wounded by several rounds. A firefight ensues, and the shooter is wounded. 5.At some point, the shooter comes out crawling. He has an assault rifle and three handguns. 1.Witnesses report hearing the first shots in the lobby. Some escape through the sanctuary and the chapel. Pervin Chapel Room for up to 240 participants 3.A small SWAT team follows the shooter farther into the building and discovers the dead and injured. SWAT medics and officers extract the victims. 2.Police receive the first call at 9:54 a.m. When they arrive, they confront the shooter somewhere near the entrance, and he opens fire on the officers. 4.The shooter goes to the third floor, where he is found by officers. He opens fire on them, and two are wounded by several rounds. A firefight ensues, and the shooter is wounded. 5.At some point, the shooter comes out crawling. He has an assault rifle and three handguns. 1.Witnesses report hearing the first shots in the lobby. Some escape through the sanctuary and the chapel. Pervin Chapel Room for up to 240 participants 3.A small SWAT team follows the shooter farther into the building and discovers the dead and injured. SWAT medics and officers extract the victims. 2.Police receive the first call at 9:54 a.m. When they arrive, they confront the shooter somewhere near the entrance, and he opens fire on the officers. 4.The shooter goes to the third floor, where he is found by officers. He opens fire on them, and two are wounded by several rounds. A firefight ensues, and the shooter is wounded. 5.At some point, the shooter comes out crawling. He has an assault rifle and three handguns. 1.Witnesses report hearing the first shots in the lobby. Some escape through the sanctuary and the chapel. Pervin Chapel Room for up to 240 participants 2.Police receive the first call at 9:54 a.m. When they arrive, they confront the shooter somewhere near the entrance, and he opens fire on the officers. 3.A small SWAT team follows the shooter farther into the building and discovers the dead and injured. SWAT medics and officers extract the victims. 4.The shooter goes to the third floor, where he is found by officers. He opens fire on them, and two are wounded by several rounds. A firefight ensues, and the shooter is wounded. 5.At some point, the shooter comes out crawling. He has an assault rifle and three handguns. 5.At some point, the shooter comes out crawling. He has an assault rifle and three handguns. 1.Witnesses report hearing the first shots in the lobby. Some escape through the sanctuary and the chapel. Pervin Chapel Room for up to 240 participants 4.The shooter goes to the third floor, where he is found by officers. He opens fire on them, and two are wounded by several rounds. A firefight ensues, and the shooter is wounded. 2.Police receive the first call at 9:54 a.m. When they arrive, they confront the shooter somewhere near the entrance, and he opens fire on the officers. 3.A small SWAT team follows the shooter farther into the building and discovers the dead and injured. SWAT medics and officers extract the victims. [Graphic: How the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting unfolded] Robert D. Bowers, a 46-year-old area resident who has been in the middle of the deadliest attack on Jews in the nation's history. Authorities are investigating anti-Semitic statements Bowers allegedly posted online, including a post shortly before the attack saying it was "going in." The massacre targeted a building that houses three separate synagogues at the heart of Pittsburgh's tightknit Jewish community. By the time Pittsburgh police confronted the suspect, shooting and subduing him, 11 worshipers were dead. Charny is a longtime member of the synagogue, attending services there since first moving to Pittsburgh with his family in 1955. His intimate knowledge of the building's mazelike nooks and crannies probably saved his life. As bullets ripped through the room, Charny and two others – the rabbi and his assistant – fled for the building's third floor. "The building is complicated," he explained. "It started off with a lot of additions. So there are a lot of small spaces. The three of us knew the small spaces. "Charny found himself tucked into a storage room stuffed with cardboard boxes. The building was silent, he said. Anxious thoughts crashed inside his head: How long are we going to be here? Is he coming? How would they get out? "Charny said." The Pittsburgh police said they were following the shooter to the synagogue's top level, where he allegedly had been stalking from room to room to the other end of where charny hid. Police said Bowers and responding officers exchanged gunfire – two officers were hit multiple times, and one was critically wounded. Bowers also was shot in the firefight. After he was taken into custody, he allegedly told a SWAT operator that "they are all hired to be , emerging outside the synagogue, where they were met by police. Charny is recovering at home from his close call. "At first I felt numb, then thankful," he said. "I do not need to tell you how terrible this has been."
Mourners gather after a vigil on Saturday evening in Pittsburgh 's Squirrel Hill neighborhood near Tree of Life synagogue. (Justin Merriman / For The Washington Post).

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