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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Rabbi Jeffrey Myers leads one of the three congregations that worship at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.
On Saturday, he says as the gunfire grew louder and he raced to get members of his congregation to safety, he was faced with a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his left.
Rabbi Myers, who leads the Tree of Life congregation, said they had all just gathered in his sanctuary upstairs for Saturday morning services when he heard the first gunshots coming from suspected shooter Robert Bowers.
“I began services at 9:45 [a.m.], the shooting began a few minutes after,” said Rabbi Myers. “The first sounds I heard sounded like one of the metal coat racks had fallen over, and I thought, ‘Oh God, someone has was falling and grabbed onto it and it fell over.’”
He quickly realized this was something much different.
“He was in the lobby. I can tell as I reflect, that first sound of gunfire was in the lobby,” Rabbi Myers said. “My gut told me that it was semiautomatic, and that’s how I knew I had to act immediately to save as many people as I could.”
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Rabbi Myers says he saw members of the Dor Hadash congregation running as the sinister sound continued.
Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, who was a member of Dor Hadash, was one of those killed. Rabbi Myers says the gunman then made his way upstairs.
“As it got louder, I knew it was coming up to our sanctuary,” he said.
Rabbi Myers saved four of his congregants from the front of the sanctuary when he told them to run out a back door.
“I just said get out, get out of the building or go find a room to hide in,” he said.
He then turned around to try and get the rest out, and that’s when he said he was faced with the toughest decision of his life.
Rabbi Myers said, “I made the choice that will haunt me the rest of my life, that I had to leave them.”
KDKA’s Susan Koeppen Reports:
He says he desperately wanted to save the remaining congregants left in the back of the sanctuary.
“I heard the gunfire getting louder, and I knew that with the length of the sanctuary, I wasn’t able to run there and take care of them, because in hindsight, I would have been the eighth casualty. So I made the choice, which no one should ever have to make,” he said.
Seven members of Rabbi Myers congregation were murdered by the gunman – brothers David and Cecil Rosenthal, Rose Mallinger, Joyce Fienburg, Irving Younger, and husband and wife Bernice and Sylvan Simon.
Rabbi Myers says he ran out the back door and up the stairs to a choir loft.
“There’s a bathroom up there, and I barricaded myself in the bathroom,” he said.
From there, he said he listened in horror.
“After I heard the shooting in the sanctuary, and the screaming and yelling as he slaughtered my congregants, I then heard the shooting getting softer, and he went downstairs to New Light and slaughtered three of their congregants,” Rabbi Myers said.
Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Richard Gottfried were shot dead.
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As all of this was going on, Rabbi Myers was on his cell phone with 911.
Normally, he would not use his cell phone on the Jewish Sabbath, but for security reasons and training he had previously received, he had it with him. He was the first person to put a call into 911 and give police detailed information on the moves of the shooter.
“I kept giving information about the gunmen, going up or down the stairs, whether the sound was getting louder or softer of the shooting,” he said.
SWAT teams stormed the building, searching for the shooter and rescuing survivors, they found Rabbi Myers barricaded in a bathroom.
“I just yelled through the door who I was. I slowly opened the door. I said. ‘I am coming out,’ and they all drew their weapons, because how could they not,” Rabbi Myers said. “I gently raised my hands up and told them who I was, and I was on the phone with 911. They surrounded me and escorted me outside the building.
At that time, Bowers was still holed up inside.
KDKA’s Susan Koeppen: “When you got out of the building?”
Rabbi Myers: “I ran, I ran for my life, I ran half way down this street, half way down the block.”
He said after he was safe, he got back on his cell phone, which he normally would not touch on the Sabbath, and called his wife.
“She didn’t have to say anything, I just wanted to hear her voice,” he said.