PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Security will be tight this weekend around events and services in the Jewish community, and it will be that way for some time to come.
But measures taken at the Tree of Life Synagogue appear have prevented the tragedy from being even worse. The person responsible for those measures is security expert and former FBI agent Brad Orsini.
Orsini has been present at some of the nation’s most horrific crime scenes, including Ground Zero in Manhattan, but as chief of security for the local chapter of Jewish Federation, nothing prepared him for when he entered the Squirrel Hill synagogue last Saturday night.
“To walk through that crime scene with the rabbis, and as they do their work is the most personal thing I’ve ever seen in my career, and we never need to see it again. So now we need to work even harder to prevent that,” said Orsini.
For the past two years, Orsini has overseen the security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and on Sept. 5, conducted an active shooter drill with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers and the board of the three congregations at Tree of Life.
“We talked about worst case scenarios, our worst nightmare,” said Orsini. “Our worst nightmare came true.”
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But the training appears to have saved lives.
Suspected gunman Robert Bowers shot and killed 11 congregants and wounded two others, but as trained, Rabbi Myers and other were able to shuttle people out of known exits while other sheltered themselves in safety.
Perhaps, most importantly, Orsini convinced Rabbi Myers to carry a cellphone, in opposition to Jewish tradition on the Sabbath.
So, on Saturday morning, when these horrific events happened, he was able to call 911. He was able to react as quickly as he could to gather people and get them out of the way,” Orsini said.
Orsini continues to work in concert with the Pittsburgh Police and the synagogues to increase security measures in the short term and continue to train and improve that security over time.
“That’s what I hope good comes out of this, that we educate the entire community on the need to be safe as possible,” he said.
Though the tragedy will continue to weigh heavily on Orsini for some time.
Security measures will increase this weekend and beyond, but the protection of the Jewish community has been ongoing, and those measures have already proved to be live-saving at the Tree of Life.