The PIO Response to a Hostage Situation: A Case Study of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue

The PIO Response to a Hostage Situation: A Case Study of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Module 1
Recorded on: 2023-10-05
Unit 1Presentation Materials: The PIO Response to a Hostage Situation: A Case Study of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue
Unit 2Transcript: The PIO Response to a Hostage Situation: A Case Study of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue
Unit 3Workbook: The PIO Response to a Hostage Situation: A Case Study of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue
Unit 4Recording: The PIO Response to a Hostage Situation: A Case Study of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue

On January 15, 2022, the Saturday before Martin Luther King Jr. day, a gunman armed with a pistol, took four people hostage in the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The hostage-taking lasted for nine hours, with Colleyville PD and numerous neighboring agencies, and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team working together. This session shares how Dara Nelson, Colleyville PD’s rookie PIO, and the rest of the stakeholders handled this critical incident.

Sargeant Dara Nelson has 9 years of law enforcement experience with the Colleyville Police Department where she’s served in multiple designations including Field Training Officer, Services Sergeant Supervising School Resource Officers, Code Enforcement and Bailiffs, and most currently as the Public Information Officer.

Specifics of her presentation covered:

  • How the Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) synagogue hostage-taking unfolded amid COVID’s peak, extreme weather, and reduced police availability due to the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
    • The dispatch call of what was thought as a disturbance at the CBI synagogue and how the gunman gained access inside the synagogue.
    • How the first responding officers arrived on the scene, figured out it was a hostage situation, and how their lack of experience and training limited their response options.
    • The rabbi conveys to 911 the gunman’s demand to reach “Main Rabbi” Angela Buchdahl and get her to release Aafia Siddiqui a.k.a., Lady Al Qaeda from prison.
  • The actions that the Colleyville PD, its leaders, and collaborating agencies took in response to the hostage-taking situation.
    • The patrol captain notifies command and neighboring agencies to assist with establishing a perimeter, a command center and other resources, and requesting SWAT.
    • Resident evacuation notification efforts through officers, dispatch, and a code red message.
    • The social media posts and updates released by Colleyville PD addressing the situation.
    • Collaboration between the SWAT and FBI negotiators communicate with the gunman.
    • Dara, the PIO, was assigned as the media contact, and the help provided by Katie Chaumont the Public Affairs Officer with the Dallas Field Office.
    • Coordination with NYPD on potential accomplices involved in New York or threats to Angela Buchdahl who is based in NY.
    • Getting the gunman to release one of the hostages through negotiation.
    • The arrival of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and how the hostages escaped just about when the HRT was about to breach the synagogue.
    • How the HRT breached the synagogue and were able to fatally shoot the gunman.
    • The media advisory and press conference held to inform the public of what occurred.
  • A map illustrating how resources were set up in close proximity to the CBI synagogue which allowed close coordination between stakeholders
  • Details that were ironed out during the aftermath of the incident that involve:
    • Road closures, coordinating with entities and individuals that may be subjected to media questions, and continued investigations.
    • Holding a national partners’ calls and a healing service for the synagogue’s congregation.
    • A final press conference to provide details and clarifications related to the incident.
  • Challenges encountered and lessons learned as they relate to:
    • Not having the chief have sole access to manage social media, cross-training, and having a backup plan for PIO and media contact responsibilities.
    • Gathering media contact information, providing the media release early on, and providing as many details as possible to avoid surge of media inquiries and speculation.
    • Coordinating where people involved are in to avoid potential media frenzy.
    • Manpower and resources are required to ensure things are run correctly and media and social media is monitored appropriately.
    • Equipment and access to resources that the PIO needs to work efficiently in critical incidents.
    • Not having the updated contact details of the point of contact for critical incidents.

Questions raised by webinar attendees relate to:

  • The Jewish community in Colleyville.
  • The negotiators activated during the incidents.
  • Adequacy of resources and tools for the PIO.
  • Effectiveness of social media updates and handling incoming calls during the crisis.
  • Management of requests from national media.
  • Coordination of interview requests
  • Setting up a tip line.
  • Organization of media contacts and prioritizing which are contacted first.


Click here to view and register for other upcoming PIO, Social Media and Communications webinars on the JCH Platform.



Audience Comments

  • “The presentation was extremely thorough and the Presenter provided an excellent overview of their after-action updates that will be beneficial for other agencies. AWESOME!!!” — Vivian
  • “Great presentation on the importance of being prepared for the unexpected. More prep and training is needed in this area for agencies.” –Travis
  • “This was a very informative session. Bless this Officer for being there and maintaining her composure as she delivered information to the media and through social media. I learned about how to manage social media, the press and how to recognize a threat.” — Patrizia
  • “Excellent presentation, Dara!” — Barbara A
  • “Understanding what vulnerabilities there were and how to pre-plan for those in the future for my department.” — Brad


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