Barry Werber, a 77-year-old survivor of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, made the emotional decision to return to the house of worship for the first time since the massacre.
Werber, with his wife and psychologist at his side, visited the Tree of Life synagogue on Wednesday, nearly six months after 11 of his fellow worshipers were gunned down there on Oct. 27, 2018.
“Even if we don’t use that building in the future for religious services, I cannot allow the person that put so many people in that building in their graves, and damaged so much of our security as far as walking into any building — let alone a house of worship — to continue to inhabit my head,” Werber told ABC News on Thursday. “He no longer has any power over me.”
The suspected gunman, Robert Bowers, faces federal hate crime charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
Stepping foot in the building again allowed Werber to “remove some of the ghosts in my head,” he said. “It was something I had to do.”
Werber was inspired to return to the synagogue by another survivor who had mentioned feeling relief when he did the same.
“There were a lot of things in the building that were there that aren’t there any longer. A lot of chairs and tables that have been removed. But many of our books are still in that room, in our sanctuary,” he said. “When I went back into the store room that I was in during the shooting, I realized how small it really was. I thought it was at least 20 feet from the door.”
When gunfire rang out that October morning, a rabbi ushered Werber and a few other congregants into a small, pitch-black room. Werber was a member of New Light, a small congregation that had been using the Tree of Life synagogue building for about one year.
One worshiper hiding in that room with Werber was shot and killed, he said.
“They were the pillars of our congregation,” Werber said of the 11 victims. “They were good friends.”
The Anti-Defamation League has called the shooting the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
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