Security is mostly a superstition.
- Helen Keller
May 5th 2008
Sitting in the back of the WVNY-TV news van, Anthony Francis Del Torro stared out the window blankly; he’d gone to a late dinner party the night before, and had only gotten five hours of sleep. As the van made its way through the dense traffic of midtown Manhattan, Anthony sipped his cup of coffee and gazed drowsily at the scores of people walking outside. The sun shone brightly, the temperature was eighty-four degrees, and the streets were packed with pedestrians; representatives of all of New York’s proverbial walks of life seemed to be enjoying the unseasonably warm weather.
Anthony, along with “roving reporter” Glenda Swanson, was on his way to cover a celebration for the Mexican holiday known as Cinco de Mayo. Organized by the students and faculty of New York University, the celebration was held in Washington Square Park–the closest thing the urban university had to a campus center. As of eleven in the morning, Washington Square Park was already packed with people as the sunshine and warmth brought student and civilian alike out into the spring air; in conjunction with the celebration, there was a modest street fair occupying a two-block stretch of University Place just outside of the park. Anthony was looking forward to a relatively short broadcast followed by an afternoon of downtime; he planned to walk around the Village a bit, check out the festivals, hit a few used record shops and catch a late afternoon movie with his girlfriend. Glenda, too, had plans for the afternoon: to take a yoga class and then head to the roof of her apartment building to sunbathe.
At three minutes past noon, an explosion occurred near the center of the park and sent bodies, property and concrete flying for dozens of feet in every direction.
At five minutes past noon, the WVNY-TV news truck was passing through Times Square. Anthony chugged the last few ounces of his lukewarm coffee. Glenda sat quietly across from him, eyes closed, engaged in a silent relaxation ritual she usually performed before going on camera. Neither was aware of the explosion that had just interrupted the festival they were on their way to cover. Having finished her meditation routine, Glenda opened her eyes and happened to glance out the window at a green pickup truck that was parked outside a subway station three lanes of traffic away from the van. Less than a minute after the truck passed out of her field of vision, it exploded. Had Glenda still been looking out the window, she might have suffered severe injury to her face and eyes as the van’s plate glass windows were blown inward; fortunately, she had already leaned back into her chair and closed her eyes again. When the truck exploded, the force of the blast rocked the van and Anthony and Glenda were knocked from their seats.
The van’s driver, forty-nine year old Dennis Ridgeway, managed to bring the van to a screeching halt before suffering a massive heart attack and slumping onto the steering wheel.
Glenda leaned toward the rear window, trying to see through the smoke that poured from the site of the explosion fifty yards away. The smoke was already so thick that she could hardly see ten feet beyond the back of the van.
Anthony, sprinkled with shards and pebbles of glass, scrambled to reach for his shoulder camera. Checking the camera for damage, he hoisted it into position and began preparing to tape. “Can you see anything? What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know…it was right by that subway station I think.” Glenda paused for a moment, then her eyes widened and her head snapped toward the front of the van. “Hey, where’s Dennis? Dennis, are you all right?” She called toward the front of the van. “Dennis?” There was no answer. She rose to her feet and began to climb over piles of tapes and equipment that had been shaken to the van’s floor; when she got to the front, she found Dennis’ limp body leaning across the steering wheel. Glenda had a bad feeling as soon as she looked at him–he’d had two heart attacks in the past six years–but she swallowed hard and checked his pulse nonetheless. She’d hoped to be surprised, but as expected there was no pulse in Dennis’ neck or wrist. She called to the back of the van. “Anthony?” She stopped, not knowing what to say. She looked down at Dennis’ body for a second; after a deep sigh, she squeezed his shoulder—she wasn’t sure why, perhaps to comfort his departing soul–and began to make her way toward the rear. Anthony called to her, “How is he Glen?”
She looked back at the body one more time. “Not good. I think he had a heart attack…another one.” She plodded toward where Anthony was holding his equipment and gaping out the rear window. He turned to look at her. “Is he okay?” She tightened her lips and shook her head; he nodded, knowing exactly what she meant. Anthony steadied his camera, just as Glenda’s cell phone began to ring. She checked the incoming number; it belonged to WVNY-TV’s news director.
“Hi. I suppose you’re calling about–” Glenda paused, listening into the phone, as Anthony literally held his breath watching her. “What? No, I haven’t heard anything…there’s actually been an explosion here at Times Square. Yes, I said Times Square…you’re saying there was one at the park too?” She looked up at Anthony, her eyes wider than before and her mouth hanging open.
Anthony’s throat went dry. “Did I just hear you say there was another explosion?” He glanced out the window and back at Glenda. The smoke was thick and charcoal colored, and no longer seemed to billow from the truck’s carcass but by now was an impenetrable fog.
Glenda nodded her head energetically as she listened to the news director. “Okay, we’ll try and be rolling in a few seconds. I’ll put in my earpiece and get connected; Dennis may have had a heart attack, so we’re not mobile. It’s terrible up here…” She paused again. “Give us a few seconds to get hooked up and then try to talk to me through the piece.” She clicked the phone and looked up at her stunned cameraman. Her eyes, no longer saucers, were focused and steady. “You ready?” Anthony nodded in response, and hesitantly opened the back door as Glenda inserted her earpiece. He squeezed his eyes closed for a split second, took a deep breath and hopped down onto the street. His camera was equipped with a small floodlight affixed to its top; he clicked it on as Glenda climbed out of the van behind him.
They made their way over toward what was left of the truck; it was hardly recognizable as an automobile. The blacktop of the street was charred with burn marks, and the curb of the adjacent sidewalk was chipped and cracked from the blast. Bodies lay everywhere: in twos and threes near the site of the blast, piled on top of one another in the stairwell of the subway station and thrown on top of cars and nearby structures stretching at least fifty feet away. People staggered about, arms around each other as they tried to assist friend and stranger alike. Individual people wandered around in evident states of shock; some of them seemed impossibly unaware of horrific wounds to their bodies or even their heads and faces. Anthony saw a man limp past him, hobbling desperately on a leg that was bent almost thirty degrees at the middle of the shin. Anthony took a deep breath and lifted his camera into position. “Jesus Christ,” he said breathlessly. He looked over his shoulder at Glenda, who had donned her headset and clipped her earphone to her blouse. “Glen…you see this?” Anthony’s normally rich baritone had plummeted to a thin, strained whisper; he sounded as though he’d been punched in the stomach. He felt worse than that.
Glenda was listening through her earpiece to the instruction of the news director. She nodded her head–Anthony wasn’t sure if it was at him or at what she was hearing over the phone–then looked up somberly. “I see it…I can’t really believe it but I see it. Anthony, we’ve…we’ve got to get rolling. Can you do it? Are you okay?” She was hardly asking; she was insisting. Glenda could be occasionally shaken when caught off guard, but once she clicked into focus she was all business even under incredible duress. Anthony admired this trait in her greatly. Glenda now held the microphone. “Are we on? Tell me when we’re on.” The smoke had finally begun to clear.
He motioned in forward rolling circles with his free hand. “Yeah, yeah, go, go! We’re rolling.
“Okay–good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, this is Glenda Swanson, and I am here at the corner of Broadway and Forty-Second Street where a truck has just exploded in the middle of a crowded street. I have no idea how many people are injured, but the scene here is absolutely chaotic and the explosion was very, very powerful. It seems as though most of the vehicle–which appears to be some sort of pickup truck–is almost completely gone. I’m not sure what sort of detonation device was used, but if there hadn’t been two lanes of traffic separating us from the blast, it’s possible we might not be here to report this to you right now. I actually caught a glimpse of the truck as we passed it, not too long before it blew up…it was really quite an explosion.” Glenda began to walk around the area, which had gone from midday pedestrian throng to simulated war zone in mere seconds. Anthony followed her lead, filming the entire way and grimacing at the carnage. After several seconds, they both had fallen into stunned silence. Dan Morgan, the WNVYTV newscaster, looked toward the camera and tried to fill the dead air. “Wow. We haven’t got any footage or contacts at Washington Square Park just yet, but from what I understand the scene is similar down there. Glenda, are you or your crew injured at all?”
Glenda briefly considered mentioning Dennis, but it occurred to her that his family or friends might be watching. “No, we’re fine so far, but people are staggering around, many police officers seem to be injured as well, and the…wait, I think I hear sirens, yes, the fire department is approaching now.”
Another car exploded just then, six cars away from the truck. The force of the blast knocked Glenda several paces through the air and onto the pavement; it knocked Anthony to one knee and dislodged his camera from his grasp. The camera continued running, roughly two feet from its operator, while Dan Morgan tried to maintain his composure as he called Glenda’s name to no avail. Morgan turned to the camera, with a stunned expression, and simply said, “I’m sorry, but…we seem to have lost contact. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t want to speculate until we can at least regain visual contact or get a report from the area.” He hesitated for a full second; a keen eyed viewer would have noticed a slight twitch in his left eye, the resurfacing of a tic he’d suppressed in his teens. He quickly regained his composure and continued, deciding to speak candidly to the audience. “I can only pray for the safety of our crew, as well as the unfortunate souls in Times Square right now.” A hurried decision was made, behind the scenes, to cut to a commercial break.
Anthony staggered to his feet and peered through the thickening smoke, which poured from the wreckage of the second car and combined with the dissipating fog from the first explosion. It was getting hard to see more than a few paces in any direction; Anthony rubbed his eyes with both hands and squinted into the smoke. “Glen? Glenda, you okay?” Suddenly there was a trembling hand on his shoulder. He turned to face Glenda, who looked visibly shaken but was standing on both feet. “Shit. Are you hurt?”
“N-no.” She shook her head, brushing her hair from her face and brushing dirt from her blouse. “The camera, Anthony where’s the camera? I’ve got to…damn, what time is it, we’re going to miss the festival…I…” She glanced downward to look at herself. “My knee is scraped…wait, is my skirt torn? Shit, shit Tony I think I’m bleeding…” Glenda’s eyes were glazed and distant; recognizing that she was in shock, Anthony clutched her gently by the shoulders and checked her for visible injuries. Her knee was scraped, as she had claimed, but worse still—her auburn hair was darkened and thickened with blood near the back of her head. Anthony pulled her closer, put an arm around her waist and began to walk her away from the blast site as dozens of people ran past them in the same direction. She barely resisted, and began to speak in a dazed babble about her camera and how they were going to get down to Washington Square Park. He squeezed her more firmly around the shoulders. “We’re right by Forty Second Street, Glen, it’s a major thoroughfare, we can get some help there and maybe lay you down for a second. It’s okay; you’ll be fine, try to relax and don’t try to run or anything, honey. Just stay calm.” The truth was, as he tilted his head to look behind her he could now actually see the wound that oozed blood into her hair and onto her blouse. It wasn’t yet life threatening, but it was potentially dangerous and would certainly need stitches. He guessed she had probably hit her head on the street when the second blast knocked her down. A police officer walked quickly past them about five feet away. Anthony waved him over. “Uh, officer, we’re with the press, my colleague has been hurt and I think she’s in shock. Can we get–”
Officer Murray Shaw, who had been hustling toward the second blast site with radio in hand, paused in his tracks and glanced at Anthony with agitation. “Pal, I don’t know any more than you do right now, but you’ll have to evacuate the area. You really don’t wanna stick around here.” He hurried off in the direction he’d been heading.
Glenda was now slumped against him and barely standing on her own. He struggled with her deadening weight, whispering into her ear. “Glen, c’mon now, don’t fall asleep on me honey, let’s go, we’re gonna get you out of here in just a minute. You hear the sirens? Those are ambulances. You did a great job, we taped the footage, and you got just a little banged around but you’re going to be all right now.” He decided to try and carry her. He was a reasonably strong man, but not terribly tall at five foot eight; she was practically his height, an inch or two taller in her heels. He was leaning forward, his arm behind her back, bracing himself to lift her legs off of the ground when Officer Shaw returned. “Listen, how bad is she, pal? We got triage set up over there.” He pointed toward a cluster of ambulances parked on the corner of Seventh Avenue.
“Her head, I think she hit her head, man. She’s bleeding all over the place.” He felt his voice cracking, his sense of alarm rising and his head swimming as the smoke he’d inhaled began to affect his concentration. He’d been asthmatic as a child, and his tolerance for smoke inhalation was lower than that of the average person. He’d suppressed his discomfort up until this point, especially once Glenda had gotten hurt; now it all seemed to catch up with him at once and he felt short of breath and anxious. “Listen, I got asthma, I don’t know if I can carry her.”
“I got her, bro.” The officer, a powerfully built man, scooped up Glenda’s increasingly limp frame and began to walk toward the sound of sirens and shouting. “What about you, you okay? She might not be as bad as she looks, head wounds, they bleed a lot you know.”
“I’m okay, I think, just short of breath. Wait, my camera’s still running. Wait!” He almost sprinted toward the rubble when Shaw called him back sharply. “You’re not too clear in the head yourself right now, fella. Let’s walk this way and get the both of you some help. C’mon, I don’t wanna ask you again.” He began to carry Glenda, who had fully lost consciousness, toward the ambulances.
“Right, sorry.” Anthony scrambled to catch the officer, who had gained several feet on him. Meanwhile, his mind raced. Two explosions in one small area so close together in time–what the hell did it mean? Why two? Why so close together? Would there be another one? Something didn’t seem right. He looked around at the people, fleeing toward the corner where the ambulances had parked. He looked toward the police officers, milling about and trying to direct pedestrian traffic and halt vehicular traffic from adjacent streets. All of these people in one place, so many of them bloodied, scared, confused, and panicked; something occurred to him all at once. What if they were being herded? As a politics major in college, Anthony had taken an academic interest in military strategy. He recalled that one ancient, and not so ancient, tactic had been to get a population or army funneled into an area to make them easier to surround. He didn’t see any opposing army, but the strategy could be applied in other ways, couldn’t it? He tapped Officer Shaw on the shoulder. “Listen, man, when’s the last time you saw two bombs so close together in time and vicinity?”
Shaw, who was beginning to struggle somewhat with Glenda’s frame, looked mildly annoyed. “I don’t study these things, pal. You wanna write the book, do it later.” By now, they were mere paces from the nearest open stretcher.
Not only was Anthony’s mind racing, but now his head was pounding. He spoke more insistently. “No, but listen. What if–what if whoever set off those bombs is just chasing us all into one spot? What if–”
Anthony Del Torro never got to finish his sentence, and Glenda Swanson never made it to a stretcher. The explosion that occurred at twelve fourteen, on the corner of Forty Second Street and Seventh Avenue, killed every human being within a twenty-foot radius. It melted signs, demolished vehicles, and blew the glass out of windows for several hundred yards. It was exactly the tactic Anthony had feared, and unfortunately for all present, it worked exactly as it had been planned.
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