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'Some Things You Never Forget'

Hostages who were held by gunmen at the B'nai B'rith International Center board a bus after their release. The March 1977 siege by a group of Hanafi Muslims lasted 39 hours and ended with one person dead and dozens hurt.
Hostages who were held by gunmen at the B'nai B'rith International Center board a bus after their release. The March 1977 siege by a group of Hanafi Muslims lasted 39 hours and ended with one person dead and dozens hurt. (1977 Associated Press Photo)

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"A girl came in screaming, 'There are men with guns!' " Ehrlich, 83, recalled. She and others locked themselves in her boss's office, she said. "The next thing we heard were men coming in and saying, 'Unlock the door or we're going to kill you all.' "

They shattered a glass panel in the door and then took everyone downstairs, she said. "When I entered the second floor, there were bodies on top of bodies. I thought everyone was dead," she said.

In the room where she was held, men were placed on one side, their hands tied behind them, and women on the other. She remembered wearing a dress that day and slowly unhemming the bottom, hoping the length would help her avoid attention. The men had it worse, she said. Some were not allowed to use the bathroom and had to relieve themselves where they stood.

One of the captors told them that "if anyone does anything wrong, he'll cut their head and throw it out of the window," she recalled.

Ambassadors from Iran, Pakistan and Egypt worked with police to persuade the men to give up. When they were finally released, Ehrlich and others went to a hotel, where counselors were waiting. "They said, 'You cry it out, you write it out. Whatever you need to get it out of your system,' " Ehrlich said. She cried only once, when she saw the headlines the next day. "Then I cried," she said. "I got it out of my system."

Barry said one lesson from that day has remained with him. "That God's in charge," he said. "Life is not promised. You could be gone in a flash."

He walked into the hallway of the District Building after hearing a commotion and was hit by a ricocheted shotgun pellet. He recalled stumbling back into the council chambers, dazed and "scared to death."

Down the hall, a security guard lay wounded and would die a few days later from a heart attack. Williams, also nearby, was dead. Barry, who was elected mayor the following year, said he knew Williams as a "young, aggressive, budding reporter who took his job seriously."

Williams was 24. Two years ago, the National Association of Black Journalists voted to create a scholarship in his honor, something Brock had pushed for. Williams's mother, Bertha, who lives in Maryland, will attend today's ceremony.

"He was very serious journalist. He wanted to tell stories that needed to be told," Brock said. "I believe if his life had not been cut short . . . that he would have evolved into a renowned national journalist."


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