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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh Police Cmdr. Jason Lando grew up in Squirrel Hill and spent his boyhood at the Tree of Life Synagogue. On the morning of Oct. 27, he was in his police cruiser when he heard the report of gunfire at the synagogue.
“It was a moment of disbelief that this was actually occurring in my own community, at my own family synagogue,” said Cmdr. Lando.
Within seconds he would take command of the most horrific and intensely personal incident of his career, managing the task of trying to capture suspected gunman Robert Bowers without additional loss of life. It’s something for which Cmdr. Lando takes no credit.
“Being outside, just trying to manage the logistics of the scene, pales in comparison to those guys who went into a gun battle knowing that they were probably going to get shot,” Cmdr. Lando said.
Lando arrived as Bowers shot and wounded Officers Daniel Mead and Michael Smidga. Then, retreating back into the building, the gunman’s attention shifted from killing innocent victims to his own survival.
“As long as we were being shot at, that kept his attention away from anyone else that might be hiding inside,” Cmdr. Lando said.
After SWAT team members from around the city assembled on-site, Tactical Cmdr. Clint Timmons ordered them to rush the building, and in the ensuring gunfight, Bowers would also shoot and wound both Officers Anthony Burke and Timothy Matson, who is still in the hospital recovering.
“What the SWAT officers did was just, it was incredible. It was some of the most heroic things I’ve ever witnessed, and they were the ones who went in after him,” Cmdr. Lando said. “Officer Matson, and his fellow officers, Officer Burke, that were in there, the SWAT team, they took bullets to save other people’s lives.”
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But Cmdr. Lando’s connection to the incident went even deeper. All the while aware that his 98-year-old grandfather attended Tree of Life nearly every morning, especially on the Sabbath.
“For the first 30 minutes of the incident, I was pretty convinced that my grandfather was in there, and he was going to be one of the victims,” he said.
Every morning Joyce Feinberg, one of the victims, would drive him, but it turns out, not on that morning.
“On that morning either he didn’t sleep well the night before or he wasn’t feeling well, but he told her he wasn’t up for going and to just go without him. And she went, and she died,” Cmdr. Lando said.
If some good can come from this loss and devastation, Cmdr. Lando says it’s that the community has pulled together and the police are feeling the love, respect and appreciation from the community.
“It means a lot to see all the cards and the food getting dropped off at the station because our men and women, they don’t often get a lot of thanks for going out and doing what they do, so this has really helped to lift their spirits,” he said.