MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the aftermath of the shooting spree that claimed 11 lives at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last weekend, religious leaders and law enforcement are committing to improving safety and preparedness.
“We are in touch with law enforcement — local, state and federal,” said Rabbi Zalman Gurevitz of WVU Chabad. “We can be sure that Chabad House is a safe place.”
For safety reasons, Gurevitz would not go into detail on safety precautions. Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston would also not go into particular specifics for the houses of worship in Morgantown, which includes numerous churches, Tree of Life synagogue, and the Islamic Center of Morgantown.
However, Preston said there are basic preparedness steps that anyone can take — steps that should be taken in places like movie theaters, religious houses, and other places that have been the target of gun violence in the past.
“All of the folks that work in administration, support, all the other ancillary services that are provided by the various houses of worship, they should themselves be familiar with the run, hide, fight theories of protection for active shooters and responses.”
Essentially as simple as it sounds, “run, hide, fight” is a drill to understand if you are already in an active shooter setting — run if possible, hide if escape isn’t possible, fight as an absolute last resort.
Preston said full preparation still won’t guarantee safety, but at least people stand a chance.
“When you have situations that don’t feel right where something or someone doesn’t act right, then you should probably report that to your local law enforcement so the threat can be vetted,” he said.
Evacuation drills run regularly give people a better chance, he added.
“There’s a lot of shared components,” he said. “That’s why we try to education folks on having a plan beforehand. Don’t think about it as it’s happening. Already know what you are going to do. How do I get out of this place?”
Chabad, an international Jewish organization, often serves as a means for connecting Jewish people to a wider religious and cultural community. It’s one of three WVU-affiliated Jewish organizations on campus.
“It’s something we are very careful about,” Gurevitz said, “and have always been careful about it. Every summer, I get special training. We’re updating our training to make sure Chabad is the safest place for anyone.”
Preston also notes that regular patrols are more likely to be present during times where religious houses of worship might be particularly vulnerable — including notable holidays like Ramadan, Passover, and Easter.
“We do try to show visibility in those (areas) without being asked,” Preston said. “Because it’s something we are kind of sensitive too in the surrounding area due to the various religious organizations that we do have in the Morgantown and Monongalia County area.”
Bob and Judy Danenburg, two congregants from Tree of Life in Pittsburgh who were out of town when the heard about the carnage in their house of worship, believe Tree of Life can rebuild.
At the WVU Chabad vigil Monday night, Bob Danenburg asked for those wishing to help the victims to “do good deeds” in their community.
“If you are inclined to want to donate money, I’m sure that they will accept that,” he said. “I think right now everybody is in a stage of dealing with the logistics of planning seven funerals and dealing with a crime scene that has yet to completely unfold. There’s no specific something you can do besides wishing prayers and good vibes.”
He and his wife Judy, who met at a summer camp in Cheat Lake in the 1960’s, recommending performing a Mitzvah, or good deed, in your own community in honor of the victims.
You can go to jfedpgh.org and click on “Tree of Life victims” to donate.