Editor’s note: This article first appeared at The American Spectator.
“Pray for us, I will call you later.”
That was the text message we received from our 16-year-old daughter at 10:16 a.m. on Oct. 27 as we drove down Liberty Avenue toward Pittsburgh’s Strip District.
My wife called her immediately. “Are you okay? Were you in an accident? What’s happening?”
I heard a gasp from my wife and braced myself.
In a hushed voice, my daughter explained that she and our second daughter and three friends, along with an adult friend of ours, were hiding in their van across the street from the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill section, the wonderful historic Jewish section of Pittsburgh. They were there for a Saturday morning retreat at an Opus Dei house. They had arrived at 9:55 a.m. They initially stopped the van directly across from the synagogue, on Shady Avenue, which would have been straight in the line of fire between the police and the shooter, who did his dirty work both outside and inside. They were planning to hop out and walk to the house. Mercifully, the driver, our friend Suzy, decided almost on a whim (a gut-feel, she later conceded) to find a parking spot so she could walk the girls inside. Just as she moved to a spot a little further away, police cars began flying in, and out poured officers brandishing serious weaponry.
As the girls struggled to assess the chaos, the police parked sideways so the officers, now in combat readiness, could use their vehicles as shields for the shoot-out. The girls’ van was hemmed in. The street was instantly closed off, like an action scene right out of Hollywood. Suzy told the girls not to get out, and to duck. They all sat on the floor of the van and listened and prayed and worried.
We received the text message about 20 minutes later.
Shortly after we talked to our daughter, Suzy and the girls made a careful decision to try to drive a little further away. She did a U-turn and went down the street just enough to pull into a driveway that allowed them to put a few houses and buildings of separation between them and the synagogue—and the gunfire. More and more police streamed in.
With none of us having an idea why this was happening, my wife and I headed to St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, closer to the girls and to a church. We sat in that parking lot and prayed and worried, and alerted family and friends. We checked websites, radio, any source for information.
After nearly an hour of confusion and concern, the girls decided to abandon the van. They dashed across backyards and over fences to meet a relative of Suzy who lived down the street. They met him in his getaway car.
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