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'I'll always remember that': WFAA photojournalist recalls capturing final breathtaking moments of Colleyville hostage situation

WFAA photojournalist Josh Stephen stood in a yard behind the Congregation Beth Israel for roughly ten hours while four men inside were held captive Saturday.

COLLEYVILLE, Texas — Josh Stephen is different.

I feel like I'm allowed to say that because I've worked with him a lot. But I don't in any way mean it negatively. 

The 51-year-old is a walking Swiss army knife -- able to be anywhere and capture just about anything with a TV camera if you command him.  

I don't know a ton of photojournalists in the industry anymore who enjoy listening to scanner traffic in their car, but as I said, Josh Stephen is different. 

For over 10 years, he's been behind the lens and in front of historical moments for WFAA over and over again. His career in television spans over thirty years. 

On Saturday afternoon, another piece of indelible footage came from his camera after Malik Faisal Akram took Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three other members of Congregation Beth Israel hostage at gunpoint within the synagogue in Colleyville.

Stephen was the only photojournalist to capture what can only be described as a breathtaking end to a more than 10-hour hostage situation: Rabbi Cytron-Walker and the remaining hostages fleeing out of a back door to safety as law enforcement moved in.

As media was staged far from the church, Stephen found himself on the street directly behind the temple as Akram began negotiations with police that could be heard over Beth Israel's livestream. 

Stephen had initially positioned himself closer but was told by a DPS trooper to leave the area. 

A family struck up a conversation with Stephen on that street as he dodged roadblocks. Theirs and their neighbor's yard backed up right to the synagogue's property, and through some trees, you could see a clear shot of police amassing around the building.

"They all just kind of waved me down," Stephen said. "They let me into the gate, and right where I'm standing is where I spent the next 10 hours."

The property owner gave Stephen permission to set up his camera for however long he needed to be there. He didn't livestream anything and didn't impede the investigation while keeping a safe distance from the building. 

As he set up his tripod, Stephen took a moment. 

"Before anything started and before I hit record, I said a big prayer to God asking for him to let these hostages go free without any harm," Stephen said. 

"You want to see these guys go home to their families." 

Stephen got a front-row seat to a situation that garnered the world's attention.

He was able to capture a first hostage released by the gunman unharmed -- a sign that things may end peacefully after all. 

"I felt like the gunman is trying to work something out here, and maybe we're going to see an end to this," Stephen said. 

But Cytron-Walker confirmed Monday that negotiations deteriorated, and Akram became belligerent. 

He said he threw a chair at Akram and made a run for it with the others. 

Stephen said the rabbi's story makes the moment he captured all the more powerful. 

"These guys ran for their lives, and you could see it through the lens," Stephen said. "That moment happened in less than 30 seconds." 

"I was relieved in a lot of ways because I thought that God answered my prayer. These guys got out." 

Because Stephen wasn't in any danger, he filmed law enforcement closing in on the building, tossing flashbangs and firing their weapons. 

Akram was killed. 

The footage is a rare thing. How often do we see the good guys win?

It was a remarkable moment that many were hoping for -- footage that many are repeatedly watching. 

It's a moment in history that we may not have, if Josh Stephen wasn't different. 

"It was a humbling experience. I'll never forget it, and I'll always remember that," Stephen said.

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