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Synagogue shooting survivor describes covering herself in a prayer shawl to hide from shooter

A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Matt Rourke
A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018.

On Thursday, Audrey Glickman, 66, testified that she and Joe Charny, then 90, both members of the Tree of Life congregation, rushed up stairs to flee from a shooter who they saw had just taken the life of their friend, Sylvan Simon.

That day, October 27, 2018, an armed man walked into the Tree of Life synagogue and shot and killed 11 Jewish worshipers and injured six people, including four police officers. Robert Bowers has been charged with 63 federal counts, including 11 counts of a hate crime that resulted in death. Bowers has attempted to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for a sentence of life in prison but prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Thursday was the third day of the trial.

Glickman had tried to bring David Rosenthal, a middle aged man with intellectual disabilities, with her. Rosenthal had been with her that morning, as he was most Saturday mornings, to recite the opening prayers of their service from memory because he couldn't read. Rosenthal became frightened and did what he often did when distressed, Glickman said, and wanted to call home to the nonprofit that provided care for him. Rosenthal fled back through the chapel.

Glickman and Charny took cover in a room where they covered themselves in their prayer shawls, hoping to blend in with laundry bags in the room. Glickman and Charny had met on a trip to Israel three years before and became intimate partners from that point forward, often walking to synagogue together.

That day, they clutched their prayer books in their hands and tried to stay quiet so they could hear what was going on outside. But — in addition to the sirens and occasional gunshots — they heard a woman screaming outside their window. Glickman didn't have time to get her phone out of her bag, so she texted one of her sons about what was happening but, in order to stay quiet, didn't answer when her older son called.

As they laid there, Charny told Glickman that he had seen the shooter's blue eyes and looked down the barrel of his gun in the chapel before his escape. "Joe was a veteran of World War II. He was in Europe at the end of the war, and, as a psychiatrist, he had run a mental hospital of 900 patients and had never had anything like this happen to him before," Glickman said.

Charny and Glickman eventually decided they needed to flee. But as they made their escape they carried their prayer shawls and prayer books with them.

Charny passed away earlier this year, Glickman said, so she relayed what he had told her happened from his perspective.

"He really wanted to be here to testify," she said.

Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.