Local woman remembers friend killed in Pittsburgh synagogue massacre

SAN DIEGO --  The tragic massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh over the weekend hit close to home for one San Diego woman.

“I hadn’t stopped crying, Saturday," Donna Bollenbacher said. "This morning was the first time I woke up and wasn’t crying,."

Bollenbacher woke up to the devastating news Saturday that a gunman had walked into her former synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Tree of Life, and shot and killed 11 people.  Among those who lost their lives was Bollenbacher's dear friend 71-year-old Daniel Stein.

“There are just no words to describe how amazing he was, and just so open hearted, and generous, and just made me feel like I actually belonged, somewhere,” said Bollenbacher. She went to college in Pittsburgh, and the Tree of Life was where she worshiped every week. Stein and his family befriended her at the synogogue.

"He was like a surrogate grandfather," said Bollenbacher. “My very first time that I went to the synagogue, I was by myself in a brand new city, and I was hiding in the back and he came up to me and introduced himself and was like can I show you around before services start. I said absolutely.  The next week came and he did the same thing,  'Please sit with us,' and every single week I went he always invited me to sit with him and let me essentially be part of his family.”

Bollenbacher and members of San Diego’s Jewish community say the shooting hasn’t left them fearful. Instead it has made them stronger and more unified.

“It makes absolutely no sense, but I’ve talked to a lot of people I know that go to synagogue here, and they’re all like, 'This isn’t going to stop us,' and and it isn’t going to stop me.  I plan to go this coming weekend and pray for him and his family and all the victims,” said Bollenbacher. "No matter what your religion is or your ties to Pittsburgh, this hits every single person, just because of the fact that every single person out there is thinking, 'Who would do this, why would they do this?'”

Congregation Beth Israel in UTC will host an interfaith vigil for the Pittsburgh victims Monday night at 7 p.m. Beth Israel is located in San Diego’s Golden Triangle at 9001 Towne Centre Drive. Security checks will be performed.

Everyone is welcome.