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Families of Colleyville synagogue hostages gathered, prayed at neighboring Catholic church during 12-hour standoff

Father Michael Higgins and other faith leaders were with the families as the situation unfolded a block away.

COLLEYVILLE, Texas — Father Michael Higgins was writing his Sunday homily when Colleyville police asked to use Good Shepherd Catholic Community as a sanctuary of sorts.

About a block away at Congregation Beth Israel, Malik Faisal Akram was holding four men hostage, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, and they needed a safe place for the families of the men inside the synagogue to gather.

“When our brothers and sister in the Jewish community were suffering, we suffered with them,” Higgins said. “It was terrible that they had to go through this. This was a frightening experience for the family.”

Inside Good Shepherd, Higgins says the families listened to a Facebook Live stream of the services that continued from inside Congregation Beth Israel until the feed ended.

“In a sense it made it easier because they knew what was going on to a certain extent, but it made it incredibly hard because their loved ones were in harm’s way,” Higgins said.

RELATED: British authorities arrest 2 teens in connection to North Texas synagogue hostage situation, officials say

Rabbi Andrew Paley of Temple Shalom in Dallas and a chaplain with the Dallas Police Department came to Good Shepherd, too.

“The not knowing is just a terrible part of not being able to communicate,” he said.

Higgins says the families were able occasionally text with the hostages still inside as FBI crisis negotiators tried for 12 hours to find a peaceful end.

“It was a long day and the family was exhausted and waiting and hoping,” Paley said.

Higgins said an imam and Baptist minister also joined the group in support.

“It was a feeling of mutual respect and prayer,” he said. “We were all in this together. We all felt each other’s pain.”

Around 5 p.m., the first prayer was answered, and one hostage was released.

RELATED: FBI identifies hostage-taker at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville

“We held out in hope the whole time trying to stave off fear that it could at any moment turn around,” Higgins said. “The longer it went, the more hopeful we were.”

Hours later, there was movement, the sound of an explosion and anxious moments before they got word their loved ones had made it out and were safe.

“The relief was palpable and there was a lot of cheers and hugging and praying together which was really powerful,” Higgins said.

“You just want to hug everybody,” Paley said. “You just want to thank everybody that you could see.”

At a press conference, officials said 60 to 70 members of an elite hostage rescue team had flown in from Virginia to help get the rabbi and congregants out safely.

“It’s very likely this situation would’ve ended very badly early on in the day had we not had professional, consistent, negotiation with the subject,” FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said.

A day later, there’s relief that it’s over, but sorrow that a house of worship isn’t always a sanctuary.  

“We can love and respect each other even if we disagree, and I think that’s really falling apart in our society,” Higgins said.

“There’s no place for this in Dallas,” Paley said. “There’s no place for this anywhere.”

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