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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A custodian who was in the basement of the Tree of Life Synagogue when Saturday’s shooting began managed to get out and is mourning the loss of his friends.

Tree of Life Synagogue was almost like a second home to custodian Augie Siriano.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

He fled out of a back door after hearing gunfire.

“When I ran out of the building, I didn’t have no coat on, nothing,” Siriano said.

Augie Siriano has been the custodian at the synagogue for 25 years. Saturday morning started like any other. He set up chairs and turned on the lights, but that morning took a tragic turn.

“I did walk over toward the chapel when I heard pop-pop-pop, pop-pop-pop. And uh, you know, I just couldn’t understand what was going on ’cause I was back in an area kind of far away from the chapel,” he said. “It wasn’t a sound that I knew and that’s why I figured, well, maybe I’ll go investigate and see what it is.”

Siriano knew everyone from all the congregations who share the building. He didn’t know what he was going to find when he started following the sound of the gunfire.

“As I got into the area where the shootings were going on, I started smelling gun powder. Well, really, when I walked down this one aisle, heading toward the chapel, as I got out of the aisle and into the chapel, I turned and looked there was a gentleman laying on the floor, face down, and he had blood coming out of his head,” Siriano said.

He turned and tried to run outside for help. He left through a side door and ran right into police officers who had already arrived on scene.

“The cops were standing there and they had the guns on me. And I says, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute’ and I got down on my knees and I was like this [with my hands in the air]. And I says, ‘I’m the custodian. I’m trying to get out of the building,'” Siriano said.


Siriano has not been back to the synagogue since the shootings. His car is still part of the crime scene. What hurts him the most, the friends he has gotten very close to over the years won’t be there anymore.

“I’m going to expect them to be there at 8 o’clock in the morning when I get there on a Saturday for the Saturday service and it’s just going to be difficult to know they’re not going to be there no more,” Siriano said.

But he will see some of the his Tree of Life family tomorrow. He’s been asked to serve as a pallbearer by the family of victims Cecil and Dave Rosenthal.

“That’s what I said to her. I said, it would be an honor because we were more than friends, they were like brothers to me,” Siriano said.

Lynne Hayes-Freeland