Home » Subway Shooting Victim Recounts a Routine Commute Before the Chaos – The New York Times

Subway Shooting Victim Recounts a Routine Commute Before the Chaos – The New York Times

by Arifa Rana

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Houari Benkada was fasting for Ramadan and had woken up for a pre-dawn meal with his mother before setting off for work at the New Yorker Hotel. He is recovering from a gunshot wound.
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Houari Benkada, 27, was roused from sleep at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal eaten before a day of fasting during Ramadan. He and his mother, Amina, shared Algerian borek, a savory pastry, and some dates before he went back to sleep.
Two hours later, he woke up, took a quick shower and was out the door by 8:05 a.m., heading to the R train station a few blocks from their home. He would take the local train one stop to 59th Street, then hop on an express N.
Mr. Benkada, who often goes by Eddie, normally headed toward the front of the train to be closer to his exit at Herald Square in Midtown Manhattan. From there, he would walk to the New Yorker Hotel, the famous Art Deco building on Eighth Avenue and 34th Street where he works as a housekeeping manager.
The N train wasn’t particularly crowded — there were maybe 35 people in the second car, Mr. Benkada recalled. There were a fair number of empty seats, especially toward the back of the car, where he was sitting with his earphones in and phone in hand, like so many other commuters. There was a heavyset man close to him, though he never caught a glimpse of his face.
What unfolded next was an unimaginable horror that continues to haunt him. He would realize later from seeing photos of the gunman that, of all the passengers on the car, he had been sitting closest to the attacker.
“I can’t sleep at night,” he said in a FaceTime interview from his home on Thursday, hours after he was released from the hospital, where he was treated for a gunshot wound. “I still think about what happened.”
As the train headed toward 36th Street, a sudden blast of black smoke filled the car, and passengers rushed to get away from the commotion. A woman near him cried out that she was pregnant. Mr. Benkada immediately thought of his sister’s young child and rushed to shield the woman with his own body. But he was pushed away in what he called a “bum-rush” of people — and then a bullet hit the back of his knee.
The doors between cars were locked, and the train kept stopping before it pulled into 36th Street, Mr. Benkada would tell CNN later. That all-too-common annoyance of a subway delay threatened to become a death sentence.
But somehow, miraculously, the gun jammed. While 10 people were injured by gunfire — and more than a dozen others by falls, smoke inhalation and panic attacks — no one was killed. A spokeswoman for Maimonides Medical Center said that everyone treated there had been released by Friday. Two people were in stable condition at NewYork-Presbyterian Methodist Hospital, and one person remained at NYU Langone Hospital in Sunset Park, the hospitals said.
Mr. Benkada limped out of the N at 36th Street, his black sweatpants drenched in blood gushing from a hole a little bigger than a quarter in his right knee. The station only has one exit, at the back of the Manhattan-bound platform. But as others fell to the ground around him, he dragged himself to the exit, and up the first flight of stairs, before two firefighters helped him up to the street.
“I was just so shocked,” he said. “The pain hit me after.”
Mr. Benkada grew up blocks away from the 36th Street station, an American-born son of an Algerian family, embracing both hip-hop and family traditions. He was the youngest of three siblings, and had played his favorite sport, soccer, at New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst. After graduation, he had gone straight to work in hotels, including the Bentley and the Williamsburg Hotel.
Now he is concerned about making ends meet, since he does not have paid time off as he recovers. The bullet fractured his knee. Doctors at NYU Langone Hospital in Sunset Park operated after the attack, but he will likely need another surgery. He is practicing walking with crutches and trying to cope with the pain. His sister created a GoFundMe page to solicit donations while he is undergoing physical therapy and counseling.
Only one other gunshot victim has been publicly identified: Rudy Pérez, a 20-year-old construction worker who was also on his way to work and who was shot in the leg. Mr. Pérez is a Guatemalan citizen who has lived in New York since last year, the consulate said in a statement.
Mr. Pérez said in an interview on Tuesday that he was headed to Manhattan when his subway car began filling with smoke. He didn’t even feel it, he said, when a bullet struck him in his left leg. He was treated and released from a local hospital.
“I was scared,” Mr. Pérez said. “I just wanted to get out of there. It’s all I wanted. Everyone was in a panic.”
Mr. Pérez had to be helped off the train by another passenger. In the hospital, doctors told him he should be able to walk again in about a month. Until then, he’s not sure how he will be able to work.
“I’m afraid it’ll happen again,” he said.
Mr. Benkada was still trying to process what had happened as he recovered at home.
“I don’t think I can ever ride the train again,” he said.
Ana Ley contributed reporting.
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