‘4 Minutes Saved My Life’: Holocaust Survivor Recounts Tree of Life Massacre

October 30, 2018 Updated: October 30, 2018

A survivor of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre recounted how he was lucky to arrive at Sabbath services four minutes late, and credits the delay with potentially saving his life.

Judah Samet, an 80-year-old member of the Tree of Life congregation, arrived at the synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, a mere several minutes late.

Samet, a Holocaust survivor, told The Associated Press that he typically arrives on time for services. A conversation with his housekeeper, however, kept him away from the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 11 of his friends.

pittsburgh shooting situation map
A situation map of the Tree of Life synagogue, indicating details of the Oct. 27, 2018, shooting. (AP)

He recounted that he was just pulling into a handicapped spot when a man knocked on the window and told him “You can’t go into the synagogue. There’s a shooting.”

The man who warned Samet to stay away turned out to be a plainclothes officer.

Samet then said he saw an officer exchange fire with Robert Bowers, the alleged gunman.

“All of a sudden, I see this guy who was a detective hiding behind a wall but popping his head out,” Samet told USA Today. “He had a pistol and he was shooting.”

Samet told the paper he stayed in his car and observed. He said he caught sight of the gunman.

“The line of fire—the bullets were whizzing by me. It didn’t touch the car. It was only maybe 1 to 2 feet,” Samet said.

Gunfire continued to ring out for approximately one minute, he said, before the shooter apparently went back inside.

“He kept killing,” Samet said. “I was very lucky. Four minutes saved my life.”

On Sunday morning, Samet said he saw the list of names of the dead.

“It blew my mind,” he told USA Today.

Carnage Inside the Synagogue

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers called 911 from his location in the synagogue’s choir loft after hearing gunshots ring out.

He told The Associated Press he thought he was going to die.

“None of us can say with certainty that there is always next year,” he wrote in a blog post days earlier, urging congregation members to seize every moment to honor and celebrate life.

Rabbi Myers gives an interview
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha Congregation across the street from the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 29, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Bowers stalked the building, armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle and three handguns. He shot and killed 11 people, and wounded six.

Four officers were among the wounded.

Bowers exchanged gunfire with officers, who eventually cornered the gunman.

At 11:08 a.m., Bowers, bleeding from wounds, crawled from his hiding place and raised his hands.

“All these Jews need to die,” he said to an officer.

Officials have labeled the incident the worst single act of violence against Jews in America since the country’s founding.

On Monday morning, Myers stood at a street corner outside of the synagogue, where memorials shaped like the Star of David had been placed along the sidewalk—one to honor each of those killed.

a person stands in front of a memorial
A woman in front of the Stars of David with the names of those killed in a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, in Pittsburgh, Oct. 29, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

He talked about the funerals to come and the difficult days and weeks ahead, but vowed, “Here in Pittsburgh, hate will not triumph. Love will win out.”

Rabbi Myers stands outside the Tree of Life synagogue
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha Congregation across the street from the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 29, 2018. Tree of Life shooting suspect Robert G. Bowers appeared in federal court Oct. 29, 2018. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

“Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years. We’re not leaving this corner,” he said. “We will be back and will rebuild, even stronger.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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