PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For Andrea Wedner, the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, started like every Saturday. She picked up her 97-year old mother, Rose Mallinger, and they headed to Tree of Life Synagogue for services. They took their usual seats in the back of the sanctuary.
“Just doing our usual thing and all of a sudden, we hear a loud crash out in the hall. Didn’t know what it was. Some people thought it was the coat rack that may have fallen, and then right after that, we heard gunshots,” said Wedner.
She says she and her mother were scared, and before they had time to run, the gunman was in the sanctuary and he opened fire with an automatic weapon.
“He was out to kill everybody. I told my mom, I said, ‘Let’s get down,’ but before we could get down, we got shot,” she said.
Watch part 2 of Susan Koeppen’s interview with Andrea Wedner —
Wedner, who was shot in the arm, says she saw the bullet hit her.
“My arm blew open, and I went down on the floor. At that point, my mother was hit too. I guess she was hit at the same time. We were both down on the floor, and I just laid there,” Wedner said.
As the gunman moved to other rooms in the synagogue, shooting more victims, Wedner played dead.
“For a while there, I just laid there. I didn’t move. And when he went out, I think maybe that’s when I, when it was quiet and I didn’t think he was around any more, I sort of maybe lifted my head and saw…” she said.
She checked on her mother, Rose, who had been gravely wounded.
“I told her I loved her. I felt her pulse. It was very light, and she had a sound coming out of her that I knew, I just, I knew, I just knew she was gone,” said Wedner.
As police swarmed the area and encountered the suspect in the shooting, Wedner was worried she might bleed to death before help got to her. And, she was worried about her family. They knew she and her mother were in the synagogue at the time of the shooting.
“I was scared for them, because they were probably thinking I was dead,” she said.
A SWAT officer was the first to spot that Wedner had survived.
“I moved, I wanted him to know I was alive and he told me to stay down and then he came back in with the medic and the medic came over and said to come with him,” she said.
Before leaving the sanctuary, Wedner looked at her mother and said goodbye.
“To die that way, it just wasn’t fair. That’s really what hurts the most. When I cry, I don’t cry for myself, I don’t cry for my injuries, I cry for my mother,” Wedner said.
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Six months later, she still finds it hard to believe this happened in Pittsburgh, in her synagogue.
“Never in my mind did I think that it would happen here, let alone to me. Never,” she said.
When Wedner was shot in the arm, her radial nerve was damaged. She has had two surgeries on her arm and one on her face to remove shrapnel. She also goes to occupational therapy three times a week. She is now able to move her arm, wrist and three of her fingers.
Wedner says she thinks about her mother often and stays strong for her.
“I have to stay strong for her. She’s in my heart. She’s on my shoulder. When I’m in therapy, I think of her. She keeps me going. She does,” she said.
Wedner is thankful for the support from the people of Pittsburgh and her family.
“They were key to my healing, they were. My husband, he was wonderful. He took great care of me. I had a lot of good people around me,” she said.
And she will never forget the police officers who rushed to the scene.
“They’re amazing. We thank them wherever we see them because they give their lives for us, and those first responders were there within two minutes. This is their job and they just do it no matter what. The SWAT medic who came to take me out of the chapel, he’s my friend now. I call him my savior,” she said.
Four police officers were shot and wounded after they encountered the suspected gunman, Robert Bowers, at Tree of Life Synagogue.
Wedner says surviving the shooting has changed her. She no longer sweats the small stuff, and she encourages everyone to be kind, smile and give hugs.
“I have a lot to live for and I’m going to live and I am going to enjoy my life. No one is going to take that away from me,” Wedner said.