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Teamwork delivers sharp coverage of synagogue hostage standoff

One of four hostages leaves the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, at about 5 p.m., Jan. 15, 2022. Police said the man was not hurt. Three other hostages escaped later that day. (Elias Valverde / The Dallas Morning News via AP)

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Reporters Jake Bleiberg, Eric Tucker and Mike Balsamo responded quickly Saturday, both in-person and remotely, to reports of a hostage standoff at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue. Well-sourced reporting and old-fashioned door-knocking led to revelatory journalism as the story unfolded. The standoff ended with the hostage-taker’s death as an FBI SWAT team rushed the building.

Dallas reporter Bleiberg was the first staffer on the ground. He stayed on-scene for more than eight hours, working in official updates with what little was known by law enforcement while sourcing information that kept the story moving forward.

Washington-based federal law enforcement reporters Tucker and Balsamo quickly jumped in, using their own sources for updates on who was being held hostage, who the gunman was and who he was demanding be freed from a federal prison.

In what proved to be a smart decision, the AP used restraint when the gunman referred himself as a “brother” to federal inmate Aafia Siddiqui. Other news organizations had to backpedal as that story began to unravel. But AP did produce a first day explainer on Siddiqui, the crimes she’s accused of and what her supporters believe about her case.

Dallas staffer Jaime Stengle and Austin-based colleague Paul J. Weber made significant contributions to the coverage, and New York photo editor Don King wasted no time picking up early photos from member photographers at the scene, even as Dallas staff photographer Tony Gutierrez rushed to Colleyville.

The morning after the final three hostages escaped, Bleiberg knocked on the most important door of the weekend, and it paid off, if briefly. He was able to speak momentarily to Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has been praised by other congregants, security specialists and law enforcement with his handling of the ordeal.

From Saturday onward,AP reporters around the U.S. and overseas helped to deliver more tips,interviews and sourced information to show the attacker,Malik Akram,entered the U.S. on a tourist visa and stayed in Dallas-area homeless shelters before the attack. An on-camera interview with the head of a homeless services program recounted Akram’s otherwise unremarkable behavior and movements leading up to the hostage-taking.

The stories,including the explainer, remained in the AP News top 10 for the three-day weekend.

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