Monday, July 22, 2013

Witnessed Something Terrible

Today as I was about a half a block away from the rental car lot in downtown Brooklyn (mid-morning), I saw what looked like a man trying to kill another man.

I was in the center lane of traffic, about to pass through a crowded intersection and then make a left turn, halfway down the next block. So in other words, there was heavy traffic and I was focused on my driving.

Out of my left window, I saw two men grappling with each other in a false doorway of a Rite Aid. As I looked closer, I saw that one man was throttling the other. The victim struggled in vain before collapsing, unconscious. As he fell, the perpetrator watched the other man's head bounce against the cement wall. A moment later, he picked up the man by the neck and seemed to press his thumb against the man's windpipe as his now barely conscious victim looked up at him blearily from the ground.

A few observers stood well back from the action, seeming frozen. I mean, could a man seriously be trying to kill another man in broad daylight on a busy street?

After just a few seconds, I grabbed my cell phone and called 911 as fast as my shaking hands could manage. While still managing to drive.

I pulled into the Avis lot, and tried to run back immediately, explaining, "there's a life threatening situation outside, I need to go help" but the Avis folks insisted I wait (painting) for my receipt. Ugh!

Then I sprinted back to the scene of the action to find... nothing. I inspected the cement for a splash of blood -- his head had struck it so hard -- but there was nothing there. No sign of anything.

The wail of a nearby siren belonged to an ambulette for a senior center.

I wondered if I had imagined this.

I decided to wait there for a few minutes -- my friend was parking her car and then we were going to go to Trader Joe's together so I had to wait anyway -- and was getting ready to leave when I saw a police van.

I waved them over and they stopped. I described what had happened and they asked, "well, where's the victim?"

"I don't know. I had to return my car, and when I ran back, he was gone."

"well, do you want a description of him? what if he turns up in a hospital, or dead? won't you want to know what he looks like?"

"Without a victim, we can't do anything."

Then an older woman nearby, pushing a shopping cart and adorned with a cigarette dangling from her mouth, said, "I saw them too, and the guy, the one who fell? He was really high, or something. He was really out of it. Someone went over and he said, 'I'm okay, I'm okay.' And then they left together."

After that, there wasn't much I could do. Those I was thinking -- well, lady, if you had been throttled into unconsciousness more than once and also had your head smashed against concrete, you might seem pretty out of it, too.

The whole thing was awful and I wish I could've done more. I wondered if I should've stopped in traffic, and leaned on my horn, or started yelling. But I was scared. I didn't want to attract the attention of a man who was capable of that kind of violence.

But it was horrible.

I'm glad that I called 911. Making the call was hard -- I'm grateful that I've had the chance to "pratice" at work with mostly non life threatening emergencies. Doing it with adrenaline pumping feels really different.

I felt like I needed to share this. Thanks for reading it. I'd love any thoughts anyone has to share.


  1. Awful.
    I always remember a friend of mine visited New York from Austria. His story was as follows.
    Apparently he was on a public bus at a traffic light, when someone got out of a car and shot someone in the car in front.
    Half the bus witnessed the incident. The bus driver got up and said in a very commanding voice "no-one saw nothin" And they all drove on!
    thank you for calling 911

    1. Sad but not surprising really. I was a bus driver and on one of my routes I came upon a may laying in the middle of the road. My supervisor asked if I could get the bus around him. I refused and asked him how doing that would play out on the news and could he just call 911 like he was supposed to.

  2. There has been all kinds of research done on the "group mentality" of no one doing anything. Don't question if there was something more that you could have done, you absolutely did the right thing. If you had approached them, I worry that something could have happened to you too. Very scary moment!

  3. Yes. You did the right thing. That's really terrible--the victim just disappeared? I wonder if the perpetrator stuffed him in a car and drove off.

    How scary--but yes, it's true, most people wouldn't have called 911. Good for you (but be safe!)

  4. Good for you for calling and being willing to help.