A woman who was shot in the deadly Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018 has spoken of the day she lost her “amazing” mum, as the world prepares to mark a year since the deadly assault.
Andrea Wedner was with her mother Rose Mallinger in the Tree of Life synagogue when a gunman armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle walked in and began shooting Shabbat worshippers at 9.50am on Saturday 27 October 2018.
It was the deadliest ever antisemitic attack on US soil and this week, a year on, Wedner told JTA what she recalls from that day.
“We were both very scared. I just remember saying ‘get down,’ that was all,” she said, adding that the last thing she said to her 97-year old mum was “I love you”.
Recalling events for the one-year video, she said: “It was a normal day. It was Shabbat, I picked my mother up. We go to synagogue, there’s people inside who greet us. We get there early usually, she’s always on time, likes to be on time.
“So we walked in, there was some people standing at the back, we were talking to them. Then it was time for services to start. We went and sat in our seats. It wasn’t too long after that we heard a loud crash out in the hall, and then we heard gunshots.
“We turned around, and I just remember I said to my mother ‘just get down,’ but before we could get down we both got shot.”
Wedner had been shot in the arm. “I lay there probably 45 minutes, I’m not sure what the timing was. Then a SWAT officer walked through. When he came down my side I moved because I wanted him to know I was alive and to get me. He told me to stay down, then he came back with a SWAT medic, who told me to come with him. I stood up, said goodbye to my mother and walked out.”
In a different interview to CBS’ 60 Minutes, she said she “had a sense of survival… I wanted to live,” adding that she “just lay there playing dead, because he [the shooter] was still roaming around.”
This Sunday, the world will remember what happened through the virtual ‘Pause for Pittsburgh’ initiative, in an international moment of solidarity, but Wedner said people had shown their feelings in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
After leaving hospital, she recalls shopping at a convenience store with her husband, when “one of the girls came towards me with this beautiful orchid. She said ‘we’re so sorry.’ She was crying, and gave me this beautiful orchid. Another girl was crying. People knew who we were. We were spottable I guess”.
For those in North America this Sunday, there will be a text, including a video, with the mourning prayer and a link to Pittsburgh’s local community public memorial service via live stream, and an opportunity to post on a community message board.
Overseas participation is through email, and the overall programme is a project of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Wedner said her mother was a “strong, beautiful, happy, positive person,” saying: “She talked to everybody. She was so friendly. She loved people, she loved being with people, she loved her family, she loved life.”
She also remembered how her mother “loved to dance… In those days, when they got married, they’d have sweet tables and they [her parents] would crash weddings just to dance. Any time there was any wedding or bar mitzvah in the family she was out there on that floor, she just loved it. She was something else. She was amazing.”
Worshippers killed alongside Rose that day were Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Jerry Rabinowitz, brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, married couple Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Dan Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger. Six others, including police officers, were injured, requiring surgery.
The sole suspect, Robert Gregory Bowers, is believed to be a white supremacist who targeted Jews because he believed Jewish groups such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) encourage illegal immigration into America.
Three days after the attack, President Trump was hosted in Pittsburgh by the congregation’s rabbi. The decision was criticised by many who said Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric fuel attacks such as that in Pittsburgh.
Yet far from being divisive, the attack helped bring the city’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities together, and led an Islamic organisation to raise $225,000 through crowd-funding for the Tree of Life community within 48 hours.