SQUIRREL HILL (KDKA) — Standing outside the Tree of Life door and memorial, Barry Werber pointed to the crosses inside the hallway and remembered his friends.
Werber was hiding inside a small darkened room during the attack when the gunman opened the door and killed 88-year-old Melvin Wax.
“He stepped over Mel’s body, didn’t pay any attention, stepped back and walked out,” Werber told CBS two days after the shooting.
Since that day, Barry Werber says the shooter has had control over his life, like a puppet on strings. He says there was only one way to cut the strings.
“I walked into the building on the 17th of April for the first time,” he said.
Accompanied by his wife, his psychologist and a security guard, Werber stepped across the threshold of the Tree of Life Synagogue and into the damage of that October morning.
“What really affected me more than anything else was going down the steps. Now that’s where I saw the body of one of our lost souls. But I had to do it,” he said.
He walked through the main sanctuary and the kitchen where two of his friends died. Then he came to the room where he hid and Melvin Wax died, and he was stunned.
Werber: “It turned out to be about one half the size from where I was standing to the doorway.”
KDKA’s John Shumway: “So you were a lot closer to the shooter than you realized?”
Werber: “Oh God yes, yes.”
The memory of the moment the gunman walked in flooded back.
“To be very honest, I was in a state of fear, and I’m talking to 911 while he comes in. And the young lady on the other end of 911 is yelling at me, what’s going on, what’s going on, and I can’t breathe, let alone talk on the phone,” Werber said.
The impact of returning to the room was immediate.
“I felt relief knowing that I can walk into that room now anytime I want without anyone with me or any scary things behind me,” Werber said.
For Werber, the path to wellness is a process. He says he looks for security guards in public places and just recently has been able to sit with his back to the door.
Werber: “It will always be with me, but the distance between then and now and walking into the building really was a catharsis, was able to remove some of the fear from my head.”
Shumway: “Did you remove him from your head?”
Werber: “Yeah, in most ways, in most ways. I hope he gets everything he deserves.”