In an emotional week for all of Pittsburgh, it was customer service representative Patti Getty who invited passengers and employees to Pittsburgh International Airport’s interfaith chapel to pray and reflect on the Squirrel Hill synagogue shootings.
“Our airport team joins you in praying that the warmth, love and inclusivity of our community — the true Pittsburgh and the common values of our nation — continues to shine in our hearts and actions and surround us all during the days to come,” she read, in part.
As the statement came over the public address system in the hours and days after the shooting, many passengers stopped to listen. Often, a hush seemed to fall over the airport.
“It was really touching, and I’m glad we were able to offer that to people,” Getty said. “When it comes to any city, you back your city up. It doesn’t matter what color, what race, what our background is. We’re Pittsburghers. It’s just what we are. We pull together.”
The Oct. 27 shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue touched everyone in this tight-knit region. As the region’s front door, the airport was not immune. Monitors throughout the airport all week reflected that solidarity by displaying a “Stronger than Hate” message, and public messages of solidarity were posted to the airport’s social media channels and website.
The gestures were appreciated and shared by many passengers, officials and media who traveled to Pittsburgh in the days after, as they posted their feelings to social media:
- “On my way back to New York after a long day in Pittsburgh meeting members of the Jewish community, it was heart-warming to see the (stronger than hate) symbol of solidarity and resilience at PIT airport.”
- “Thank you PIT airport.”
- “The show of support from the larger Pittsburgh community is really beautiful.”
“We want to contribute however we can to let everyone know that this is not what Pittsburgh is about; that hate has no place here; that we are a region of openness,” said CEO Christina Cassotis. “Pittsburgh International is the front door for our region, and inclusiveness for all is part of what we stand for in bringing the world closer together. We’re always stronger together.”
Behind the scenes, the airport helped however it could. Airport firefighters responded to the Emergency Operations Center set up to respond to the incident. Personnel greeted family members of victims at the gate as well as dignitaries flying in to offer support, including a representative from the Israeli government.
“If we could help in any way, that’s what we did,” said Vince Gastgeb, PIT’s vice president of Government and Community Affairs. “It was important to be able to provide quiet spaces for families to meet and assist mourners through the terminal.”
The airport’s customer service team also dispatched therapy dogs throughout the terminal this week as nerves and emotions were still raw. The PIT PAWS therapy dogs greeted travelers and helped brighten the mood.
CNN producer Sonia Moghe, who was traveling through, tweeted a video of the dogs saying “it is everything we ever needed.” A Florida chaplain who flew to Pittsburgh to offer his services at the synagogue said the dogs “immediately lifted me up. As a chaplain I go around consoling hundreds and hundreds of people. This is a blessing to me.”
“If we can help to bring a smile to some people’s faces this week, particularly those traveling long distances, that’s important,” said Elise Farris, customer service manager.