COLLEYVILLE — All four people taken hostage inside a synagogue during a morning service were safe Saturday night after an 11-hour standoff.
The hostage-taker was dead, authorities said at a news conference late Saturday. Officials said they had identified the suspect but were not yet ready to release his name.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced the rescue at Congregation Beth Israel just after 9:30 p.m., and Colleyville police confirmed shortly thereafter that the situation was resolved.
No injuries were reported among the hostages, one of whom was released earlier in the evening. All of the hostages were adults, and one was the synagogue’s rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker.
A loud bang was heard at the synagogue just after 9 p.m. Authorities said that was around the time that the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team breached the building.
About 30 to 40 officers were seen standing outside the synagogue shortly after the noise. An armored vehicle with a breach arm was also seen returning to a staging area nearby.
Matthew DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, said at the news conference that many details about the incident could not be released yet because of the ongoing investigation, but said the hostage-taker was “singularly focused on one issue” that was not related to the Jewish community.
Officials referred to the hostage-taker as a gunman but did not say whether they had recovered any weapons.
DeSarno added that a “shooting incident” had taken place at the synagogue but didn’t provide other details. He said authorities’ investigation would have “global reach” in the coming days.
Authorities said they didn’t have any information about why Congregation Beth Israel was targeted.
Colleyville police Chief Michael Miller commended the work of the many law-enforcement agencies who responded Saturday.
“What we saw was a crisis here, but there’s lots of hope in how the community came together,” he said.
Police in Colleyville said they were called to the synagogue in the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Road about 10:40 a.m. According to a written statement, officers “observed an emergency situation that warranted evacuation of the surrounding areas” and established a perimeter.
About 50 minutes later, the department tweeted that it was “conducting SWAT operations” and asked people to avoid the area.
FBI negotiators were in constant contact with the hostage-taker throughout the day. Officials didn’t believe there was a threat to the general public.
“Negotiators have contact with this person and are working to come to a safe resolution,” Sgt. Dara Nelson, a Colleyville police spokeswoman, said earlier in the afternoon.
Nearly 200 law enforcement officials responded to the synagogue, including the North Tarrant Regional SWAT Team, Dallas SWAT team and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, who flew to Colleyville from Quantico, Va.
Multiple media outlets reported that the hostage-taker claimed to have set bombs in several locations, but authorities did not confirm that.
By late afternoon, several emergency vehicles — including ambulances, firetrucks and armored police trucks, one with a long arm on its front that had what appeared to be a drill on the end — were staged at Colleyville Middle School, about a quarter-mile down the road from the synagogue, but the scene outside remained calm.
Shortly after 5 p.m., authorities were seen bringing a man wearing a robe and a black yarmulke out of the building. About an hour later, FBI agents took in water and a pizza delivery bag.
The synagogue was holding its Shabbat service, which began at 10 a.m., when the incident occurred.
The service was being streamed live on Facebook, and although the video did not show what was happening inside the synagogue, a man could be heard speaking. At times the man sounded angry and said he was going to die.
During the stream, the man could be heard referring to other people inside the synagogue while speaking to someone who could not be heard. The man went on several profanity-laced rants and at one point seemed to threaten the authorities outside the building.
Commenters on Facebook left messages asking for prayers that the situation would end peacefully.
The livestream was removed from Facebook just before 2 p.m.
Anna Salton Eisen, who was one of the founders of Congregation Beth Israel, asked on Facebook for people to keep the synagogue in their prayers.
“I started this synagogue with two other families and am heartbroken and fearful,” she wrote. “What has become of the world?”
Although officials did not release a motive for the incident, the man could be heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who is serving a lengthy sentence for shooting at two U.S. military officers, The Associated Press reported.
Siddiqui is being held at a federal prison in Fort Worth, about 20 miles southwest of the synagogue.
In a written statement Saturday night, President Joe Biden praised the work of law-enforcement officials on scene and said he was “sending love and strength” to the congregation and Jewish community.
“There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage taker,” Biden’s statement read. “But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate — we will stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country.”
Sen. Ted Cruz commended the work of officers in a Tweet late Saturday.
“I’m very grateful that all hostages are safe and incredibly thankful for the brave members of law enforcement who responded to Congregation Beth Israel, freed the hostages, and stopped the terrorist,” his tweet read.
Chad E. Meacham, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said Saturday’s incident is “a testament to the fortitude of North Texas law enforcement.”
“When the pivotal moment came, officers and agents stepped bravely into the fray,” Meacham said in a written statement. “Our prayers are with the four freed hostages and the entire Jewish community tonight.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relation condemned the incident. Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the organization’s national deputy director, called the situation “an unacceptable act of evil” and said “no cause can justify or excuse this crime.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas said Saturday afternoon that it had been in contact with law enforcement officials throughout the incident, and that it had notified other synagogues, Jewish organizations and agencies in North Texas.
“The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas joins others in expressing relief and joy at the successful conclusion of the hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas,” the federation said in a written statement. “The Federation continues to hold those impacted individuals, their families, and the members of Congregation Beth Israel in our thoughts.”
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said Dallas police would have additional patrols at synagogues and other sites in the city, adding that officials were working with the Jewish Federation to monitor any threats.
The mayor’s Anti-Hate Advisory Council released a statement that said “actions of hate have no place in our community” and called upon “people of all faiths to come together and work to unite our country.”
Police in New York, Los Angeles and Fort Worth also were increasing patrols near synagogues. In New York, a rabbi called 911 to report receiving a call that appeared to be the rabbi held hostage in Colleyville demanding Siddiqui’s release.
Siddiqui, 49, is a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda. While in custody in Afghanistan in 2008, officials say, she shot at two U.S. military officers and was later convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 86 years in prison.
Supporters have said she was a “ghost prisoner” held at Bagram Air Force Base, which American officials have denied.
In the past, CAIR has called for Siddiqui’s release, with the executive director of CAIR-Dallas, Faizan Syed, saying in November that her sentence was unjust.
Siddiqui’s lawyer, Marwa Elbially, called her “one of the greatest victims of the so-called ‘war on terror’ kidnapping program that saw hundreds of innocent people kidnapped and held in U.S.-funded detention around the world.”
CAIR issued a joint statement with an attorney representing Siddiqui’s brother that said the person inside the synagogue was not related to Siddiqui and called for him to surrender.
“This assailant has nothing to do with Dr. Aafia, her family or the global campaign to get justice for Dr. Aafia,” John Floyd, the organization’s board chair, said in a written statement. “We want the assailant to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia.”
A Somali-American man was arrested in 2015 over allegations he planned to attack the Fort Worth prison where Siddiqui is being held. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
About the synagogue
According to its website, Congregation Beth Israel began in 1998 as a chavurah, which is a small group of Jewish people who gather for prayer services. The group officially established a synagogue in Colleyville in July 1999, and began services at its current location in 2005.
Cytron-Walker has been with Congregation Beth Israel since 2006 and is originally from Lansing, Mich., according to the congregation’s website. He is the congregation’s first full-time rabbi.
Jawaid Alam, who leads the Islamic Center of Southlake, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Cytron-Walker is “a true friend of the Muslim community.”
In 2018, after a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead, Cytron-Walker wrote a post on Facebook calling for people of all communities to stand together against hate.
“Too many times in Jewish history we faced tragedy without love or support,” he wrote. “Too many times to count, we were left to pick up the pieces of tragedy and destruction. Believe me. The love and support matters. It is something that we all should be able to expect of each other.”
Michael Williams and Jamie Landers reported from Colleyville, and Catherine Marfin reported from Dallas.
Staff photographers Elias Valverde II and Smiley N. Pool and The Associated Press contributed to this report.