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The Rabbi Who Tried To Save Congregants Killed In The Synagogue Shooting Said, "I Do Live With Regret ... I Wish I Could Have Done More"

Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers described what he saw and heard on Saturday morning when a shooter killed seven of his congregants.

Posted on October 29, 2018, at 3:19 p.m. ET

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers hugs congregants during a meeting after the shooting.
Matt Rourke / AP

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers hugs congregants during a meeting after the shooting.

Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers described in wrenching detail how a "typical Shabbat morning" turned into a massacre — and shared his own personal regrets — as a gunman shouting anti-Semitic slogans opened fire and killed 11 worshippers.

In an interview with CNN, Myers described the events that unfolded and how seven of his congregants were gunned down in his synagogue's sanctuary.

Myers said he thought the first gunshot was the sound of a fallen coat rack until he saw people running from a distance and "instructed [his] congregants to drop to the floor."

After instructing some of his congregants to leave, he himself took shelter, leaving eight people in the sanctuary.

"Our pews are thick old oak and I thought perhaps there's some protection there. The people that were at the front of my sanctuary, I quickly tried to usher them up to the front, out some doors in the front towards exits or a closet, someplace they could hide, someplace safe. I turned back to see if I could help the remaining people in the back of my congregation," he said.

"At that time I could hear the gunfire getting longer. It was no longer safe for me to be there and I had to leave them."

Seven of the eight who remained died of their injuries.

"I don't have answers, but I do live with regret ... I wish I could have done more. I live with that and the sounds that are seared in my brain that I'll never forget for the rest of my life," Myers said.

"We are a tree of life and, as I said before to many, you can cut off some branches from our tree, but Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years — we're not going anywhere. We will rebuild and we will be back stronger and better than ever. I will not let hate close down my building," Myers said at the end of his interview.

Read Rabbi Myers' interview here:


CNN’s Alisyn Camerota: Rabbi, will you tell us what was happening inside the synagogue Saturday morning before the gunfire broke out?

Rabbi Myers: When I came, it was what I would assume to be a typical Shabbat morning, the Hebrew word for our sabbath. Got ready for services, greeted people, and so forth. Everything seems as it normally would. Nothing out of the ordinary in any way, shape, or form. Began services at 9:45. Then within a few short minutes, I heard a loud — it sounded like a crash to me, as though one of our metal coat racks had toppled over. To that, while it is jarring, I wasn't immediately concerned because I thought, number one, maybe someone had just pulled on the rack and toppled over. Maybe someone fell.

We're a synagogue, with three synagogues within it. Three people from Dor Hadash, one of the synagogues in our building, ran down the stairs. As they ran down the stairs — I could see them from the rear of my sanctuary — another round of what I now knew was gunfire came out. I can't tell you how I knew it was gunfire, because I had never heard gunfire before, but just something told me this was some sort of semiautomatic weapon. At that time I instructed my congregants to drop to the floor, do not utter a sound, and don't move.

Our pews are thick, old oak and I thought perhaps there's some protection there. The people that were at the front of my sanctuary, I quickly tried to usher them up to the front, out some doors in the front towards exits or towards a closet, someplace that they could hide, someplace safe. I turned back to see if I could help the remaining eight people in the back of my congregation.

At that time I could hear the gunfire getting louder. It was no longer safe for me to be there and I had to leave them. One of the eight was shot and she's survived her wounds. The other seven of my congregants were gunned down in my sanctuary. There was nothing I could do. I was not in the space at that time — I had run to safety as I called 911.

From what I've been told I was the first caller and I stayed on the phone for about 20 minutes — it seemed like an eternity — until SWAT extricated me from a safe space and choir loft and escorted me out of the building, because they had not apprehended the shooter at that point and did not know where the shooter was.

Camerota: Oh my gosh, Rabbi. That is such a searing image and knowing that you witnessed it all and you tried to help until the gunfire was threatening your own life. And what do you say to those families now, who want to know how this could happen?

Myers: I don't know how this can happen. Those are questions that I think I've still got to digest. I don't have answers, but I do live with regret that — I wish I could have done more. I live with that and the sounds that are seared in my brain that I'll never forget for the rest of my life.

Camerota: Rabbi, how are you doing this morning?

Myers: I really don't know. I haven't thought about that. I don't think... I know I haven't slept much. There are more important things to take care of. I have a congregation to take care of. As I said, I have families that need me. I have funerals to plan. At some point they'll be able to sit down and reflect upon all of this and move on from there.

We are a tree of life and, as I said before to many, you can cut off some branches from our tree, but Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years — we're not going anywhere. We will rebuild and we will be back stronger and better than ever. I will not let hate close down my building.

UPDATE

The interview transcript and comments by Jeffrey Myers have been updated and clarified.

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