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Catholic church sheltered families of hostages in Texas synagogue

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Matt Gush - Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 01/18/22

Families were comforted by interfaith leaders while they watched the hostages on a Facebook Live stream.

While a team of hostage negotiators worked to end a 12-hour standoff in a Texas synagogue, a nearby Catholic Church offered shelter and support to families of the victims. The Good Shepherd Catholic Community stood by their neighbors as the situation unfolded, drawing in interfaith leaders from around Collyville to bring hope to the nightmarish scenario. 

The crisis began when a stranger entered the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue and met Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who offered him a cup of tea. The Guardian reports that the man, identified as British National Malik Faisal Akram, drew a gun as the prayer service began. Akram took Cytron-Walker hostage, along with several other men who were gathered for prayer. 

According to WFAA, Fr. Michael Higgins was busy writing his weekly homily just down the block at the Good Shepherd. As the hostage situation developed, Fr. Higgins worked with authorities to take in the families of those held hostage, offering them a safe place within the church. Fr. Higgins was glad to be able to help those who suffered, watching their loved ones on a Facebook Live stream that had been set up to broadcast the service.

“When our brothers and sister in the Jewish community were suffering, we suffered with them,” Higgins said. “It was terrible that they had to go through this. This was a frightening experience for the family.”

Interfaith Leaders

Throughout the day, the Good Shepherd sanctuary was visited by Rabbi Andrew Paley of Temple Shalom in Dallas, a local imam, and a Baptist minister who spoke and prayed with families of the hostages. It was not until 5 pm that the first of their prayers were answered and a hostage was released. 

The Guardian notes that the situation grew more dire in the following hours. Akram became more irate and desperate as the night wore on. At one point he ordered Rabbi Cytron-Walker and the remaining hostages to their knees and that was when the hostages took action. The group had inched towards the door and the rabbi threw a chair at Akram before they all bolted for freedom. 

No hostages harmed

Video footage shows the armed assailant briefly following the escaped hostages out the door before ducking back in. The reports go on to explain that authorities moved in as soon as the hostages were clear. The team used breaching charges to enter the building before killing Akram in an exchange of gunfire. 

Father Higgins remembered the scene within Good Shepherd when they heard the news that the hostages had escaped: 

“We held out in hope the whole time trying to stave off fear that it could at any moment turn around,” Higgins said. “The longer it went, the more hopeful we were.” The priest added, “The relief was palpable and there was a lot of cheers and hugging and praying together which was really powerful.”

The crisis was brought to an end thanks to a team of 60-70 hostage rescue team from Virgina, who quickly flew to the scene. Although their negotiators were in contact with Akram for nearly 12 hours, there is still much that is unknown about his motives.Axios Dallas reports that authorities believe his goal was the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist serving an 86-year sentence in a Texas prison for assaulting U.S. federal agents, employees and nationals in Afghanistan.

Read the full gripping story at the Guardian. 

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