Horror of New York truck attack unfolded in 5 nightmarish minutes

Washington Post

The first police radio dispatch came through at 3:07 p.m. Eastern time on Halloween: "Pedestrian hit at Pier 40. Pier 40 between West Houston and Clarkson."

The next came 17 seconds later, the voice of the same New York police dispatch officer describing another incident nearly a mile away. "Another pedestrian hit, between West and Chambers," she said.

Within less than a minute, a different officer came on the line. "Can I get an additional [ambulance] over at West and Chambers?" he asked, before panic rose in his voice. "Shots fired," he said. "Shots fired!"

The events across a 20-block stretch of a West Side bicycle path on Tuesday were related, part of an attack that began at 3:05 p.m., when Sayfullo Saipov allegedly drove a rented Home Depot truck onto a breath of green space in a crowded city. It was the work of a self-radicalized terrorist, authorities have said. It was blocks from the site of the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and it unfolded in five nightmarish minutes.

The truck sped through Manhattan's lower west side, sending bicyclists and pedestrians fleeing for their lives. By 3:10 p.m., officers were requesting more ambulances, Saipov had been shot in the stomach and was in custody, and the bike path was littered with what the truck left behind: eight bodies and a dozen people injured, some critically.

In the right light, the part of the Hudson River the bike path overlooks appears almost blue, and in the evenings, sailboats drift in the marina. There are playing fields on one side, high-end retail shops on the other. A pier, a dog run, a veterinary hospital. It is occupied almost all the time: joggers at dawn, commuters at 8 a.m., tourists in the afternoon, nightlife seekers heading to Tribeca after dark.

Students from Stuyvesant High spill onto the path after class on weekdays, and when the five minutes of terror were over, a cluster of mothers would whisper to one another how lucky they had been: lucky that the attack happened so close to the 3 p.m. dismissal, when their children were still dawdling in the hallways, said Terri Ludwig, one of the mothers. Lucky that it happened on Halloween, because the after-school sports that normally meet on the playing fields had been canceled so everyone could go home for trick-or-treating.

The timing turned out to be important, the mothers said.

At 3:05 p.m., Saipov allegedly jumped a curb at Houston Street, turned left and barreled down the tree-lined asphalt at a time of day that was too early for many students and commuters. But it was a beautiful afternoon to be a tourist in New York.

Ariel Erlij had graduated from a polytechnic school in Argentina in 1987. To celebrate the 30th anniversary, he and a group of his friends had come to New York. They donned matching shirts, and they rented bicycles. Saipov allegedly struck them from behind. Some witnesses described them being tossed in the air, and others described seeing them run over, with tire marks left on their bodies. Five of them died: Erlij, Hernán Mendoza, Diego Angelini, Alejandro Pagnucco and Hernán Ferruchi.

The truck drove into a Belgian woman named Anne Laure Decadt, 31, Belgian officials confirmed. It also hit Darren Drake, 32, from New Jersey and Nicholas Cleves, 23, from New York. All three died. The truck streamed down the bike path for a dozen blocks, as people ran in terror. One witness told The Washington Post that pedestrians were screaming. Some were in shock.

"I saw a man lying down on the floor. Witnesses were trying to help him, I think," said Ruben Cabrera, a college student who was near the park. "I could see two [other] bodies, and the bicycles were mangled."

Tom Kendrick, a lawyer who was jogging along the path, recounted the horror on Twitter: "I walked a few hundred yards north along the bike path looking for bodies, which were strewn over a long stretch. I saw bikes and bodies strewn over a stretch of several hundred yards."

In addition to the eight killed, 11 people were injured.

Saipov allegedly kept driving.

Minutes later, but not yet 3:10 p.m., middle school student Lucas Fernandez had just been dismissed from class. He was leaving the school when he heard what he thought was an explosion and saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. The movement looked red to him, he would later tell his mother, Raquel. She realized what he must have seen was the blur of the truck's Home Depot logo, and he had heard the crash of one car into another.

At the corner of West and Chambers streets, after driving for nearly a mile, the truck came to a stop when it smashed into a school bus carrying children with special needs.

"Get back upstairs," a teacher told Lucas. "Get inside."

The school bus sat, lopsided, in the middle of Chambers Street. A youth sports nonprofit founder, Sebastian Sobczak, neared the scene and at first noticed only the bus's undamaged side. "Are you OK?" he asked, as he looked into the window and saw two boys. "Can you call 911?" he asked a passerby as he crossed to the other side of the bus. Only then did he understand: The other side was gone. "Oh my God," he cried, his voice rising into a wail. "Oh my God, oh my God."

He ran closer, to where the metal was so crumpled and twisted that, a 14-year-old witness named Olivia Raykhman would later tell news outlets, rescuers had to saw through the windows to pull the children to safety.

A short distance south, the rented truck had come to a stop. The front end was decimated. He emerged from the van near the corner of West and Chambers, near Stuyvesant High, where teacher Annie Thoms was realizing this was the third terrorist attack she had witnessed from inside the high school: She had been a student there when a bomb exploded at the World Trade Center in 1993 and a young teacher when airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center in 2001. Now, she watched blue and red emergency lights reflect off buildings.

"That was when I felt very shaky," she said. "It was that moment of, 'Oh my gosh, emergency vehicles in Lower Manhattan again.'"

The Stuyvesant High students watching from the building took out their phones and began to record Saipov as he stumbled through traffic. He was carrying what would later be identified as replica weapons in each hand — one a pellet gun and the other a paintball gun. He ran between cars as sirens blared, zigzagging and changing direction while law enforcement swarmed on all sides.

Ryan Nash, an officer who has been with the New York Police Department since 2012, and who had been at the school, took a shot and hit Saipov in the stomach.

The singer Josh Groban, who was out walking his dog, heard noises coming from the corner where he had intended to have coffee: "Oh my god I just heard gun shots and ran," he posted on Twitter.

"Suspect is down," an officer said into his radio.

Saipov was lying on his belly, on the same bike path to which he had allegedly just brought such brief, enormous horror.

On their radios, officers tried to convey the massacre that stretched north before them, as far as one could see. "We have multiple people on ground, from Chambers all the way up to Houston. All the way up to Houston," an officer repeated. "It's going to be a crime scene."

It had been just five minutes since the truck had first turned off Houston.

The path was lined with battered metal and people.

A few hours later, the sun went down. Neighborhood children began to emerge from apartment buildings dressed in Harry Potter and ninja costumes and lit by the glow of dozens of police cars.

As they went trick-or-treating, one block away, crime scene investigators dressed in white hazmat suits paced the length of the path with their heads bowed, moving slowly, several abreast, examining the broken ground.

Sarah Kaplan and Eugene Scott in New York and Ann Gerhart and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

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