NEW YORK, N.Y. (CBS) Those of us who work at 48 Hours | Mystery, the CBS News program, frequently spend long hours getting to know victims of violent crime and their families and friends, as part of our work. We do our best to be sympathetic and empathetic with what these folks have gone through. But any of them will tell you that there's no way to understand it unless you've been through it yourself.
I had never been the victim of an extreme violent crime, like a shooting or stabbing, until recently, when I was mugged and assaulted in New York City, where I live. It had a great impact on me, and perhaps will increase my understanding of what it's like to be the victim of violent crime. I'm recounting my experience here, in the hopes that people who take the time to read it will come away with some small nuances of understanding that will keep them safer in the future.
I've been advised by police authorities not to reveal my identity here, except to say that I am a middle-aged man in good health. The police are hoping to bring a case against my attackers if they can be caught. They have asked me not to discuss my case with anyone involved, so as not to jeopardize a future prosecution. I assure you, everything I am saying is true and has been documented by police.
What I remember is this:
I had gone to dinner in Astoria, Queens with a buddy of mine Sunday night, July 25, around 8. We talked a long time and I headed to the N Subway back to Manhattan, close to midnight. (I had had one beer). There were a handful of people on the train. I had my newspaper, plus a small backbpack. I had bought. In my left pocket was my phone, a simple Verizon work phone. In my right pocket my Blackberry, which is for email but not a phone. In my back pocket my wallet with $80. My small backpack was slung over my shoulder.
As the train hit 28th street, I remember thinking that the next stop - 23rd street - Broadway/Fifth Ave. - was my stop. A good area of the city, not heavily trafficked after hours. I got up, and moved toward the door. It was around 12:30 a.m. The next thing I remember is a crushing, overwhelming feeling of suffocation and sudden engulfment, concurrent with a blinding pain and a sense of total loss of control. A brutal attack from nowhere, it felt like. Then the lights went out. It all happened very fast.
The next thing I recall was being on a stretcher in the ambulance talking to the EMTs. I could see I was all bloody - my face, shirt and pants doused with blood - but felt some sense of comfort that people were taking me to the hospital. When I arrived at Bellevue, they kept me on a wheeled bed in the hallway from about 2 a.m. till about 8, when they moved me into a different area. They gave me ice packs when I asked for them, and a couple of cups of water. I noticed that my phone was missing, but my wallet was still in my pocket, and my blackberry in the right pocket. Since it was the early hours of Monday morning, I began to email various people, including my sister and friends, to let them know what happened and where I was, so they could check on me in the morning when they received the emails. I had also told the EMT's my sister's phone number. She emailed me after they called her, and I told her not to come during the night, since I didn't think there was much she could do.
I just had to wait. They told me there were more serious cases to attend to in the ER. I didn't mind that much, because I felt safe, and figured that if they said I didn't need immediate attention, then it was probably true. There were several cops at the ER and they asked me about the incident. All I could tell them was the above, and that I had a vague sense that the attackers were black, from some hazy recall of the attack. But I said I could definitely not identify anyone. I figured I must have passed out.
They told me that there had been a witness to the beating, who had waited for the police to come--but they had not yet contacted him. It was a little vague.
At around 5 in the morning, I asked for a plastic surgeon to sew up my face, which was bleeding and partly bandaged. I had a lot of blood in my mouth and I could see all the contusions on my face in the mirror. I was able to walk to the bathroom, fairly steadily. My mind seemed to be functioning. I dozed and waited, and they told me that a plastic surgeon would sew me up later in the morning.
My friend and colleague Paul showed up at the hospital around 8 and the plastic guy began. He applied topical anesthetic, which pinched and stung, a lot. He was a friendly, nice young resident who, I later learned, was training to be an orthopedic surgeon and was in a rotation for plastic surgery. He worked on me for about an hour, sewing about 25 stitches, mostly on the left side of my face, but also many inside my mouth in the left cheek, where damage was done apparently from my tooth piercing my cheek--or possibly a weapon, they didn't know for sure.
Around 10am, I thanked everybody and Paul took me to my apartment. Soon after, my sister arrived and stayed for the next day. I was exhausted, and went to sleep for about 5 hours. While I was asleep, two NYPD detectives showed up and talked to my sister. They told her a witness had heard some screaming, gone into the station, and called 911. They said they wanted me to come down to the station the next day.
LET'S GO TO THE VIDEOTAPE...
My sister accompanied me on Tuesday afternoon, to the robbery squad on 12th street, a brownstone building with scaffolding. On the second floor the bare-bones office looked right out of NYPD Blue. A genial detective took me into a small room and we chatted. He then showed me the surveillance videotapes that had been taken from the subway station.
They show the following:
You see the stairwell leading upstairs from the turnstile where the train stops and lets you out. First, we see a muscular black guy, in a sleeveless white t-shirt, long shorts, sneakers, and wearing a backpack, coming down the steps. He moves aside out of camera range. A few moments later, we see me walking up the stairs, backpack on, newspaper in left hand, untucked shirt on my back, wearing shorts. The black guy comes back into frame, following me up the stairs. At the bottom, he raises his right arm fully above his head, finger crooked forward--clearly a signal to another guy at the top.
A minute later, two blacks--the guy we saw before, plus another one dressed similarly, run down the stairs clutching my backpack. Another camera captures them running up the other side of the subway exit, and out of the station, with the backpack. At the top of the stairs where I was attacked, there is apparently a landing--still inside the station.
What I believe happened is that the second guy was lurking to the side of the stairwell, and when I emerged, he jumped me, putting me in a chokehold. Either he or the other guy, or both, punched me 3-4 times in the face, mostly on the right side. They then stripped my backpack. The whole thing took less than a minute, probably more like 30-40 seconds, I'm guessing.
I don't remember any of the details. Watching the videotape keep running behind the detective's face as we talked, I noticed that I saw myself, bloodied, wandering back down the stairs, a few minutes after the attack. I have no memory of this, and the detective believes I was in shock. But clearly, I got up afterwards.
The detective told me he was given this case because he believes these guys can be caught. He said he believes they attacked another guy in the same station 5 days earlier--but so far, that victim has refused to cooperate with police. Thursday, July 29 I spoke to the detective again and he told me he had spoken to the witness who called 911. That fellow said I got up after the attack and he tried to talk to me, but I was unresponsive. I may have been in shock. I want to thank that fellow, but the detective tells me that for now, it's best if we don't talk so as not to taint the case with us talking if it goes to court. He also told me that wanted posters of the two guys have been made from the videotapes, and they are being circulated around the city.
I feel very lucky to have escaped with the injuries I did--it could have been a lot worse. I could have had serious eye damage, broken bones, a cracked head, any number of injuries. It's amazing they didn't take my wallet and blackberry. I can't explain that, except that possibly the bystander yelled and interrupted them before they were finished stripping me. The irony is that if they had just held me in the chokehold, without punching me, I would have given them anything they wanted.
I haven't been in any pain since last Monday, for some reason. I'm sleeping well, though often very tired during the days, even after a good night's sleep. I'm pretty confident that the physical recovery will proceed along, and I may have some scars, that will take months to heal, if ever, but that's about it.
The harder part is the psychological toll. My sense of security on the streets of New York has been eroded for the moment. It was probably naive in the first place, but I never felt any sense of danger or fear walking the streets, going in subways, on quiet streets. Now I do. I find myself frequently wheeling my head around walking the street to see who's behind me. When you realize through personal experience that it's quite possible to be walking along in a civilized society, in a place where there's no reason for fear, and be suddenly and brutally attacked out of the blue...it has an impact. A little fear will certainly be good. Clearly, I was a bit foolish to feel as immune as I did. In retrospect, the fact that I was walking out of that subway in a sparsely populated station after midnight, without any sense that there might be some danger lurking...was foolish. I won't be riding subways after about 10pm in the future. I will be on high alert on quiet streets. Several people have commented: "geez, this is like the 70's again." I don't think it's like that, but I have changed my perspective that the streets of New York are perfectly safe.
I do recognize that this attack was an extreme rarity. The key is just being aware that it CAN happen, and avoiding situations where I'm entering any kind of potentially dangerous grounds. Really, that should not be too hard to do. The bigger challenge will be to push away from the psychological fear that it can happen anytime, anywhere. I know that's not true, but right now, my visceral responses feel that way. I may seek some counseling for this type of thing 'til I feel a fuller sense of security.
Some have speculated that the predators took my backpack because they thought there was a computer or an ipad in it. We'll never know. I won't spend time speculating why they attacked me. I chalk it up to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and something that I should, with some care and caution, be able to avoid in the future.
All I hope anyone takes away from this is...don't lull yourself as I did into a naive sense of security. At the same time, don't fall prey to paranoia. Just keep your wits about you, pay attention to signals of potential danger, think about what could possibly lurk, and do what you can to prepare yourself if faced with a dangerous situation.
One other thing I must add: My friends, family and co-workers have been incredibly kind and helpful, and it's made a huge difference in helping me move back toward normalcy these past few days since it happened. As much as the attacsk is a commentary on the evil of people, the goodness that I've experienced has so overwhelmed that evil. I can never thank everyone enough for their sympathy, concern, and offers of help. It makes a difference more than I can express.