Jeffrey Cohen: Texas synagogue hostage mouthed 'NO' when gunman ordered him to get on knees
'I reared up in my chair, stared at him sternly. I think I slowly moved my head and mouthed NO,' Jeffrey Cohen said
A Texan man held hostage during the 10-hour synagogue siege by British terrorist Malik Faisal Akram on Saturday, January 15, has recounted the harrowing experience of the siege.
Jeffrey Cohen, vice president for the board of trustees at Congregation Beth Israel, was one of four people held in Colleyville, Texas. He took to Facebook on Monday, January 17, to write a lengthy post detailing the situation and praising the active shooter training for teaching him how to come out of it all alive. "First of all, we escaped," said Cohen, an engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center. "We weren't released or freed. We escaped because we had training from the Secure Community Network on what to do in the event of an active shooter. This training saved our lives — I am not speaking in hyperbole here — it saved our lives."
Akram was 'calm and happy' before pulling gun out
He went on to describe the fear that hostages were gripped by when Akram, the 'calm and happy' man who they had welcomed into their synagogue and shared a cup of tea with, pulled out an automatic weapon. The situation was quite different from how it all plays out in the films, Cohen said. "Movies are scripted. Everyone knows exactly what every other actor will do. It is not surreal. On the contrary, it is quite real and realistic," Cohen said. During the siege, Akram called for the release of a female al-Qaeda terrorist, Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently serving her 86-year sentence in the state prison.
Although fighting back is the last resort when confronted with a gunman because there is a possibility that others would get hurt, Cohen said that he went pretty close to attacking the gunman but never got close enough. Also he described how a number of carefully evaluated decisions on his part might have saved his life as well the lives of his fellow captives. "I keep my phone next to me during services, and that was important," he wrote. "I quickly dialed 911 and put the phone screen side down on the chair and moved as commanded. But not exactly as commanded. Instead of going to the back of the room, I stayed in line with one of the exits."
'At one point, our attacker instructed us to get on our knees'
He was also aware of the easiest way to escape the building and also made others aware of the same. "Later in the day, I helped one of my fellows by moving him closer to the door," Cohen explained. "While rubbing his shoulders, I whispered about the exit door. Still later, when we received the pizza, I suggested to our third hostage that he bring it back to us. We were all within 20 feet of the exit door. This proved critical for our escape."
Cohen said they remained calm, but towards the end of the 10-hour siege, the situation deteriorated. By then, one of the hostages had escaped, which left Cohen, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and a third worshipper named Shane. "At one point, our attacker instructed us to get on our knees," he said. "I reared up in my chair, stared at him sternly. I think I slowly moved my head and mouthed NO. He stared at me, then moved back to sit down. It was this moment when Rabbi Charlie yelled 'run'. Shane had one step on me. I grabbed him and pushed him through the door (we were so close, that the report said only 2 people came out — there were three of us)."
He added: "Going out the door, I stumbled hitting the ground hard. I heard our attacker open the door. I was on the ground without my glasses, my plan became getting through the hedge line. In all honesty, I thought I was further under than I was. In fact, I was quite exposed. The lesson is that just because your head is covered doesn't mean your body isn't completely in the open. When I heard the door close and an officer yell, I got up and ran."