One boy emerged from Public School 234 in tears, but the girl behind him seemed determined not to let her Halloween be ruined by a three-hour lockdown triggered by a real life-monster.
“Trick or treat, smell my feet!” she exclaimed in a demonstration of denial or courage or maybe both.
Another boy seemed bewildered as he looked about for clues as to why they had all suddenly been herded in from the play yard just as the school day was ending and they were supposed to be heading off to don their costumes and fill their goodie bags.
“Some bad things happened in our neighborhood,” his father told him.
The new Freedom Tower that now stood glinting the autumn sunshine directly behind the school had risen in the place of the fallen twin towers. And anybody who thought about it earlier on Tuesday it might have taken it as a mark of how much time has passed since 9/11.
But around 2 p.m., 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov rented a truck at Home Depot in Passaic, New Jersey. He took the 75 minutes for $19.95 deal, the sum advertised on the side of the vehicle. He paid a $50 deposit and departed, leaving behind his car. He took the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan and started down the West Side Highway. He had come to America from Uzbekistan on a lottery visa in 2010 and is said not to have been the subject of a investigation by either the FBI or the NYPD.
Just after 3 p.m., he reached Houston Street and veered onto the bicycle path that runs along the Hudson River. He then proceeded downtown at a high rate of speed.
“He comes flying down,” a senior law enforcement official later told The Daily Beast. “Very high speed. He’s just flying down, hitting whatever he can. If you don’t hear him coming, you have earbuds on or you’re not paying attention…”
The official noted—as Saipov almost certainly had in choosing his target—that the path is bordered in many places by a low stone wall or fencing.
“He had found himself a corridor of death,” the official said. “All he had to do was point it and aim… If he’s aiming at you, there’s only a limited chance of getting out of the way.”
Saipov sped on for nearly a mile. People who were bicycling toward him had at least a startled instant to try to save themselves. Those bicycling downtown may never have known what hit them, as the sound of the approaching truck could likely have been masked by that of the traffic speeding along the parallel West Side Highway.
Six were dead and two more were beyond saving when Saipov came to where the bicycle path crossed Chambers Street, just up from the World Trade Center and one block from Public School 234.
There, the truck broadsided a school bus that ferries special needs kids. Two children and two adults aboard the bus were injured. Saipov is said to have leapt from the car holding what appeared to be two handguns.
“Allah akbar!” he was heard to cry.
He left in the street beside the truck two sheets of printer paper on which he had handwritten the same message multiple times.
“‘The Islamic state shall endure forever’ or ‘The Islamic State forever,’ depending on how you translate the Arabic,” the official said.
The official added, “He went right out of the ISIS playbook: Get a car, better yet get a truck, run people down until you can’t. Have a weapon so you can continue your attack and achieve martyrdom… Have something on hand to claim credit for ISIS.”
Saipov may even have heeded an online call by one ISIS element to stage attacks on Halloween. He seemed ready for the martyrdom part when uniformed Police Officer Ryan Nash approached and ordered him to drop the weapons. Saipov refused. Nash shot him.
After Saipov was cuffed, police discovered one part of his plan that diverged from the ISIS instructions.
“They didn’t say ‘Have a fake gun,’” the official later noted.
In fact, Saipov proved to have two fake firearms, a pellet gun and a paintball gun. He also failed to achieve martyrdom and was conscious when he arrived at Bellevue Hospital. He did not respond when detectives questioned him.
“He wasn’t talking,” the official reported.
The questioning stopped and the doctors intubated Saipov. He is expected to recover.
Back at the scene, the sound of the officer’s gunshot had reached Rachel Elderfield as she was nearing Public School 234 to pick up her 8-year-old son, Hudson. She broke into a run to get there, but a call had already gone over the radio regarding all the schools in the immediate area of the attack.
“Put them in lockdown!” a commander ordered.
The children were herded inside, and Elderfield could only wait outside as the afternoon filled with more sirens than had been heard in this neighborhood since 9/11. The air crackled with urgent calls coming the radios of the arriving cops.
“No outstanding perps. We have one perp in custody at this time.”
“Was the perp shot by an MOS [Member of Service]?”
“Perp on the way to Bellevue [Hospital].”
“Extend the crime scene all the way down.”
Blue crime scene tape was stretched the full mile. White sheets were placed over the six who had been pronounced dead at the scene. At least two of the dead had been found with visible tire marks on their bodies. Two had died at the hospital. All but one of the eight dead were male, but that was probably a coincidence, as the driver had not likely been making distinctions as to who he hit. Five of them were from Argentina, celebrating with a trip to New York their graduation from high school 30 years before. A sixth victim was from Belgium.
The city had been hit by an unrelenting rainstorm on Sunday, but Monday had been better and Tuesday was a glory, promising to be a perfect Halloween for tourists and New Yorkers alike. The people who pedaled or jogged or skateboarded or just ambled along the path could have only counted themselves as lucky as they passed along the river through the late October splendor, the Statue of Liberty off across the harbor, the Freedom Tower just a leisurely few minutes downtown, bordered by the September 11 Memorial.
The ill-fated people on the path may or may not have visited the memorial at some point and stood by the twin pools where the names of the dead are inscribed. They could not have imagined that on a perfect day they would themselves fall victim to death-loving fanaticism just a few blocks away.
Where do we put the names of our latest dead? Where do we inscribe Hernan Mendoza, Diego Angelini, Alejandro Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij, and Hernan Ferruchi, and the one Belgian, and the two other victims when they are identified?
In the meantime, a police helicopter that arrived to survey the corridor of death hovered beside the Freedom Tower, which now seemed to mark how long this longest war has continued.
Just before 6 p.m., the police gave the all clear for the schools to reopen. The worried parents went in to get their children and reemerged to have the best Halloween they could despite the real-life monster who lay intubated in Bellevue Hospital. Elderfield still smiled when she reported what her son Hudson was going to be.
“A ninja!” she said.