Officers Stop Madman From Detonating Bomb in NYC
An NYPD robot removes two gas cans from a suspicious SUV in Times Square. [New York Police Department]
New York Daily News via YellowBrix
May 02, 2010
NEW YORK CITY – A quick-thinking street vendor and three heroic cops stopped a madman from detonating a car bomb in the heart of Times Square Saturday night, law enforcement officials told the Daily News.
The T-shirt vendor – a Vietnam vet – told Officer Wayne Rhatigan there was smoke coming from a Nissan SUV on the southwest corner of 45th St. and Broadway about 7 p.m., sources said.
Rhatigan approached the car, saw the smoke, and sprang into action.
“I did a lap around the vehicle. The inside was smoking,” Rhatigan told the Daily News Saturday night. “I smelled gunpowder and knew it might blow. I thought it might blow any second.”
He grabbed two rookie female cops patrolling the area. Together, they pushed hundreds of people away from the scene as they called for backup, he said.
The Fire Department and bomb squad rushed to the scene.
What they found was stunning: a running SUV packed with three propane tanks, two red 5-gallon plastic jugs of gasoline, a clock, electrical components and a canister of gunpowder, police sources said.
“We are very lucky,” Mayor Bloomberg said at an early morning press conference at the scene, still wearing a tuxedo and red bow tie. “Thanks to alert New Yorkers and professional police officers we avoided what could have been a very deadly event.”
The two rookie cops reported seeing a man running away from the scene as they approached the car.
Police spokesman Paul Browne said cops were investigating a report that someone was seen running from the vehicle at some point and are reviewing security videotapes.
“It looks as if the perp was trying to light it up, and was interrupted by the cops, panicked and took off,” a law enforcement source said.
“It looked like someone tried to detonate it and we got to it in time,” a police source said. “This is a big deal. It has the makings of a real car bomb.”
Cops began evacuating the Crossroads of the World as the bomb squad used a robot to get inside the car.
Tourists rushed out of the Marriott Marquis hotel and several Broadway shows.
Seven big shows went dark, including “Billy Elliot” and “The Lion King,” which is located directly behind the would-be car bomb.
The curtain at “God of Carnage” and “Red” went up a half hour later than usual, but those shows were not canceled, said spokesman Adrian Bryan-Brown. Restaurants like Sardi’s and TGI Friday’s were also evacuated, witnesses said.
Police said the blue Pathfinder appeared to be stolen and had Connecticut license plates belonging to another car.
The man seen fumbling with the device vanished into the crowd and had not been found as of early this morning.
Cops closed a huge chunk of Times Square from 43rd St. to 49th Sts. on Seventh Ave. and all of 45th St. from Seventh Ave. to Eighth Ave.
They were pulling video footage from a number of security cameras in the area.
Times Square had been jammed with pedestrians all day.
Celebrities Halle Berry, Jessica Biel and Jessica Alba and thousands of women ran through Times Square in the afternoon for the EIF Revlon Run/Walk, which raises money for research to fight ovarian cancer.
“The death toll could have been enormous,” a police source said. “It was a nice day and the Times Square area was completely packed.”
Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly were in Washington, D.C., for the White House Correspondents dinner, but rushed back to the city when they learned what was going on.
Police precincts all over New York City were put on high alert and ordered to patrol sensitive areas, officials said.
The Homeland Security Department was aware of the situation, but the NYPD was the lead agency involved in the investigation, sources said.
“The matter is being taken seriously,” said Paul Bresson, head of the FBI’s public affairs office at bureau headquarters in Washington.
President Obama was notified at 10:45 p.m. of the situation in Times Square and commended the “excellent work by the NYPD,” White House officials said.
“The federal government is prepared to provide support,” a spokesman said. “\[We\] will continue to keep the President up to date on the investigation.”
For his part, Rhatigan, 47, said he still plans to retire this year after 19 years of service.
“Of all the idiots in New York, I find this thing,” he said. "I was almost a fireball.
“It’s upsetting that someone tried to pull this off.”