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2022 Congregation Beth Israel Hostage Crisis

Lesson Learned from a Deadly-Force House of Worship Incident

Hands tied up with rope

This article is based on the Safety Member Certification training module “Active Shooter Response.”[1]

From the Bible

He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me (Psalm 18:17).


There have been a few motivations (or motivating factors) behind most deadly-force incidents at places of worship (POWs). An old motive which is still current is bigotry, which can be racial, ethnic, social class, or religious/philosophical. One bias gaining currency concerns social issues (for example abortion).

Another motive is domestic discord – violence at home spilling over into the POW of the victim. An extreme example of this is the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting which left 26 dead and 20 wounded at the church.[2]

Then there is the motivating factor of mental illness, which often mixes with other motives.

Now more often we see a deteriorating community social climate coming to the POW, including gang activity and the culture of violence.

The incident at Congregation Beth Israel presents another motive – hostages held to force a public action. In this case it was the release of a convicted terrorist. As with other motives, probable mental illness was also a factor.


Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) in Coffeyville, Texas, is not an old synagogue, but fairly new. It was established in 1998, providing a place of community and meeting for an urban area between Dallas and Fort Worth. It is a Reform Judaism congregation. At the time of this incident, it still had its first full-time senior rabbi.

One driving force of CBI has been unity among Abrahamic religious communities in the DFW area. Strong ties were forged with other Jewish synagogues (even Conservative), Christian churches (Catholic and Protestant), and Islamic centers.

The location of CBI is thought to be the reason it was the target of the hostage taker. It is the closest synagogue to the Federal prison where the convicted terrorist is held – the prison is about 12 miles southwest. Ironically, about 20 miles away in close to the same direction is West Freeway Church of Christ, where three years and two weeks earlier a church shooter was killed (December 29, 2019).[3]

The Interrupted Sabbath Service

January 15, 2022 was on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat). The morning Shabbat service at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, was being live-streamed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There only four persons in the sanctuary of the synagogue: Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three others; one assisted the rabbi.

A man who was disheveled and appeared to be homeless came to the door. It was freezing outside. Rabbi. Cytron-Walker let him in, even though he and another felt uneasy. Rabbi Charlie felt it was the right thing to do since it was so cold. Rabbi Charlie offered him a cup of tea. He seemed to be friendly. The service began at 10:00. During a time of prayer, the stranger pulled out a handgun and announced that they were all four being held hostage.

One of the men called 911 and set down the phone upside down. This muffled the speaker, but still left the microphone exposed. Dispatchers heard everything and sent the police. It was about 10:30.

According to one of the hostages, the assailant was erratic, talking in different languages, screaming, whispering, giving contradictory orders, waving his hands. The live-stream was still broadcasting. The camera was fixed on the pulpit, but voices were heard. At one point, the gunman said he liked the rabbi. The public feed of the live-stream broadcast was cut off at 2 pm, but it was still available to law enforcement.

Police were able to communicate with the gunman through his mobile phone. The hostage taker demanded the release of a Pakistani woman held at a federal prison in Fort Worth. She had been convicted of participating in an attack on an American officer in Afghanistan and of being an Al-Qaeda associate. He also demanded to meet her.

Local law enforcement called the FBI, and they sent a hostage rescue team by plane from Quantico, VA. The team arrived in the afternoon.

About 5 pm, one hostage managed to slip out. People first thought he'd been released. However, the rabbi and elders of the congregation had been trained in active shooter response and looked for opportunities to escape. They stayed calm and avoided provoking the gunman to active violence. He claimed to have planted explosives. They were skeptical, but acted as though they believed him.

As they were held, they kept themselves between exits and the gunman. About 9:30 pm, they had their chance. The rabbi had given the gunman a glass of soda. As he was drinking it, the hostages saw their chance. While two of the three remaining hostages moved toward an exit, the rabbi threw a chair at the gunman, hitting him. While the attacker was distracted, the rabbi also escaped.

The FBI hostage rescue team entered the synagogue as the hostages escaped. The gunman did not surrender. About 10 pm, he was killed. Details of the final confrontation were not described publicly.

The Hostage Taker

The middle-aged hostage taker was born to a Pakistani couple who had moved to Great Britain. In his teens he got into fights at school with other students, so his family sent him to Pakistan to attend a military high school. According to family members, he was mentally ill. Ironically, he did not hate Jews. This may explain why he didn't fire his weapon at the synagogue members.

Not long before the incident a younger brother or sister had died. Bereavement has been a destabilizing factor in other situations.

The family also revealed that he became radicalized in 2003, but two years before that he had been banned from a court for saying that a court official should have died on 9-11. He also had a criminal record. Besides that, in 2016 and in 2019 he was referred to programs meant to de-radicalize. It's not clear whether or not he went.

In 2020, he spent six months in Pakistan. For a while after that he was on a UK watch list for about a month. He was off the list when he came to the U.S.

Here in the U.S. he was often homeless. His erratic behavior led to him leaving shelters and mosques. He had been expelled from a mosque in the DFW area just 10 days before the incident. Although he exhibited behaviors consistent with mental illness, without a diagnosis we cannot say with certainty which one. It could have been bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, or some other. At CBI it proved to be terminal.

Statements the suspect made to others before the incident indicated that he expected he could die in what he planned to do, though he hadn't said what it was. Since he was erratic, most did not take him seriously.


After the end of the incident, there was relief and thankfulness that none of the hostages were harmed. Rabbi Charlie credited training in active shooter response with saving his life and the lives of the others.

During the crisis, leaders of DFW religious communities – Muslim, Christian, and Jewish – had gathered in support of the hostages. A local imam advised police when they asked how to negotiate with the gunman.

A few days later, a healing service for the congregation was held at a nearby Methodist church, since the synagogue was closed for cleaning and repairs. Sunday religious classes were postponed until repairs were finished.

Eleven days after the hostage taking, a man in Fort Worth was arrested for selling the handgun that was used. The charges included possession of a firearm while under disability and drug dealing. He was found through messages on the suspect's phone.

In July 2022, Rabbi Cytron-Walker left CBI as had been planned the previous October and became the rabbi at a congregation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, while Robert A Jacobs became the interim rabbi at CBI.

CBI now has armed security, according to a statement on the synagogues website:

"CBI continues to provide armed security personnel at all services and events. We ask that attendees of CBI events abide by the following security policies:
NO large purses, bags or backpacks (12" x 6" x 12") will be allowed inside the building or near groups congregating outdoors.
Diaper bags and purses may be subject to search, or may be left in the attendee's vehicle."

This is in line with increased security at synagogues and other Jewish centers and institutions across the country. Now there are warnings of threats for all religious institutions, especially places of worship.

Lesson Learned: Be Proactive

Disclaimer: The goal of this section is not to criticize the actions of the targeted place of worship, but to learn how to improve safety and security in all churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and meditation centers.

First of all, the leadership of Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville is to be commended for participating in active shooter training. When the time came, they knew how to respond. Fortunately, the gunman did not start shooting as soon as he produced the weapon; therefore no one was injured before the FBI Hostage Rescue team came in.

  1. Be proactive, not just reactive.

What we should learn is how to not get to that point where we must respond to a weapon in someone's hand. CBI has learned that lesson, at least as far as having a security team on hand.

At CBI, large baggage items (over-size purses, big bags, backpacks) are prohibited. Many times, it has been items like this that hid weapons and ammunition – for example, a shotgun in a guitar case. Then normal-sized bags and purses are searched. I'm assuming this also includes briefcases and book bags.

  1. Be discrete

The notice says nothing about security personnel training, which is wise since it does not inform those planning to bypass security. Do not publicly share details about your church's security.

  1. Be Observant

Safety team members should be observant, ready to notice signs of hidden weapons, such as bulges in clothing. They should also check bags in a way that seems normal and routine – be polite while everyone is checked, so no one person is being obviously singled out.

  1. Share concerns and assess threats

The suspect's erratic behavior was cause for concern in the mosques. He could have just as easily taken hostages in a mosque or at a church as well as in a synagogue. Members of the faith community could have shared their concerns about an individual, even if not by name, so others would be aware of a common threat.

Law enforcement may also learn of security concerns and notify POWs.

An individual house of worship should take note of a reported risk and be on guard against it. A church's standing threat assessment team would consider whether this would be a threat to their church and know how to alert the Church Safety Team if it is.


Be proactive, not just reactive. Listen to warnings of threats; be alert for threats; watch for weapons and suspicious behavior.

Training Resources

Several training resources are available: Sheepdog Church Security's Safety Member Certification program, the Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy's blog, Sheepdog Church Security Academy videocasts, Church Security Roll Call podcasts, affiliate Worship Security Academy, and Simon Osamoh's Security Connections articles on Worship Facility.[1][4][5][6][7][8][9]

Hand icons pointing out training resources on SDSC website naviationg
  1. Road Map to Sheepdog Church Security Resources

Safety Member Certification has eight training modules (classes). It is available in three training formats:

Online Events (live Zoom classes) both individuals and groups can enroll in Online Events. There are four quarters (full class cycles) in the school year – the 2023-2024 school year is underway. Here's the schedule:





Training Module


Sep 10

Nov 12

Jan 28

Mar 24

Safety Team Fundamentals


Sep 17

Nov 19

Feb 4

Apr 7

Active Shooter Response


Sep 24

Dec 3

Feb 11

Apr 14

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Oct 1

Dec 10

Feb 18

Apr 21

Protecting Children from Abuse


Oct 8

Dec 17

Feb 25

Apr 28

Basic Use of Force Laws


Oct 15

Jan 7

Mar 3

May 5

Arson and Fire Safety


Oct 22

Jan 14

Mar 10

May 19

Storms and Disasters


Nov 5

Jan 21

Mar 17

Jun 2

Mass Trauma Emergencies


  1. Sheepdog Church Security and Affiliate Resources

  1. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response" and "Deescalating Disruptive Persons," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. WGV, "2017 Sutherland Springs Church Shooting," Articles, Sheepdog Church Security, July 5, 2022 [].
  3. WGV, "2019 West Freeway Church of Christ Shooting," Articles, Sheepdog Church Security, September 6, 2022 [].
  4. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
  5. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Articles, Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy [].
  6. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy channel, YouTube [].
  7. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call channel, SoundCloud [].
  8. Sheepdog Church Security affiliate link to Worship Security Academy [].
  9. Simon Osamoh (Editor), Security Connections, Worship Facility [].
  1. News Accounts

  1. "Colleyville synagogue hostage crisis," Wikipedia [].
  2. Eric Levenson, "What it was like inside the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue during the 11-hour hostage standoff," CNN, Updated January 18, 2022 [].
  3. Eliott C. McLaughlin, Travis Caldwell, Kacey Cherry, and Amir Vera, "The FBI is investigating the Texas hostage standoff as a ‘terrorism-related' incident, the agency says," CNN, Updated January 17, 2022 [].
  4. Ryan Osborne, Pete Freedman, and Alex Cruz, "Hostage situation at North Texas synagogue ends with all hostages safe and suspect dead, authorities say," WFAA, January 15, 2022; Updated: January 16, 2022 [].
  5. Ryan Osborne, Pete Freedman, and Alex Cruz, "Here's everything we know about the Colleyville synagogue hostage situation," WFAA, January 16, 2022; Updated: January 17, 2022 [].
  6. ToI Staff and Luke Tress, "All 4 hostages freed, captor dead, at Texas synagogue, The Times of Israel, January 15, 2022 [].
  7. Bill Hutchinson, "Texas rabbi 'grateful to be alive' as synagogue hostage-taking suspect ID'd: The suspect died as an FBI team breached the temple," ABC News, January 16, 2022 [].
  8. Josh Campbell, Amir Vera, Dan Przygoda, Jason Hanna, Nick Paton Walsh and Kelly McCleary, with Eliott C, McLaughlin, Travis Caldwell, Geneva Sands, Ed Lavandera, Ashley Killough, and Kacey Cherry, "Gunman in Texas synagogue standoff was thrown out of a local mosque for erratic behavior days before taking hostages," CNN, Updated January 18, 2022 [].
  9. James Doubek, "All hostages are safe after being held at Texas synagogue, authorities say," NPR, January 15, 2022; Updated January 16, 2022 [].
  10. Edmund DeMarche, "Texas synagogue hostage crisis is a 'terrorism-related matter,' FBI says," Fox News, January 17, 2022 [].
  11. Ryan Osborne, "Colleyville hostage-taker timeline: When and where he went before showing up at Congregation Beth Israel," WFAA , January 18, 2022 [].
  12. Meredith Deliso and Alexander Mallin, "Man arrested for allegedly selling gun used in hostage incident at Texas synagogue: The man was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm," ABC News, January 26, 2022 [].
  13. The Forward and Robin Washington, "Rabbi at Center of Texas Hostage Standoff Had Resigned in Fall Amid Discord," HaAretz, January 19, 2022 [].
  14. Yonat Shimron, "Colleyville Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker to take new pulpit in North Carolina," Religion News Service, February 25, 2022 [].
  15. Miranda Suarez, "‘We are not healed': The Colleyville synagogue hostage crisis, one year later," Texas Standard, January 13, 2023 [].
  16. Bobby Ross Jr., "A year later, Texas synagogue hostages cope, carry on," AP News, January 12, 2023 [].