Deadly Terror Attack Outside Stuyvesant

Walking across the Tribeca bridge, senior Grace Tang was headed to a doctor’s appointment when she heard a loud crash. Below, she saw the mangled...

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Walking across the Tribeca bridge, senior Grace Tang was headed to a doctor’s appointment when she heard a loud crash. Below, she saw the mangled remains of a school bus and an armed man running around. “He came out and he had two guns with him,” Tang said. “That was when I started running back into the school.”

Sayfullo Saipov drove a Home Depot rental truck down the Hudson River bike path on Tuesday, October 31, before crashing into a school bus in front of Stuyvesant. Eight people were killed and 12 were injured in what became the deadliest act of terrorism in New York City since 9/11. One of those injured was Stuyvesant’s biology lab specialist Dr. Yanjun Zhang.

The next day, students returned to school, taking a detour around the cordoned-off section of the West Side Highway, the chaotic roar of helicopters and sirens replaced by a solemn stream of high schoolers, dressed in black out of respect for the victims. Tuesday’s attack will have both global and political repercussions, but it has also profoundly impacted the Stuyvesant community.

The Attack

Saipov turned the truck onto the bike path along the West Side Highway near Houston Street at 3:04 PM on October 31 and mowed down bicyclists and pedestrians.

“We walked up to the bike path and we saw pools of blood, bloodied up jackets, broken bikes with blood on them, people crying, it was something out of a movie almost,” said sophomore Andrew Hirtle, who was at Pier 40 for football practice.

Four minutes later, Saipov crashed into a school bus parked at Chambers Street. Saipov jumped out of the van, brandishing a paintball gun and a pellet gun. “I was at the mural, near the entrance of the bridge [...] I heard the crash, then we went to look and saw a lot of smoke. Then we saw a man jump out of the van,” freshman Laith Bahlouli said.

Saipov allegedly began shouting “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.” “He shouted that phrase [...] he screamed ‘Allahu Akbar,’” said freshman Timothy Yen, who was also near the Chambers Street mural during the incident.

Students and staff ran into the school to alert security about the attack. “I was sitting at the main desk when a substitute teacher, Lisa Erica James, came in and ran to me sitting at the main desk and told me there’s a man outside with a gun. My coworker [Agent] McConnell locked the doors and I started pushing the kids inside the auditorium,” School Safety Agent B. Taylor said.

As Stuyvesant locked its doors, police officers, who were in the building due to an emotionally distressed student, responded to the attack. “The first thing I saw was the smashed bus,” junior Tobias Zinner said. “I walked further into the street to see what was going on, and then I noticed all the cops next to me were crouched down and had their guns out of their holsters, and they were screaming, ‘He has a gun, he has a gun,’ and then I heard shots fired.”

Police officer Ryan Nash of the First Precinct fired nine shots, one of which hit Saipov in the abdomen. This effectively ended the attack, and Saipov was rushed to Bellevue Hospital Center.

Inside, approximately halfway through tenth period and only minutes after Saipov was shot, the administration tried to assess the extent of the attack and immediately began following the NYCDOE’s General Response Protocol (GRP), instituting a shelter-in.

“I was going from the third floor to the second floor and [saw] from the stairwell by the window that kids were rushing back into school,” Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick said. “At that time of day students should be leaving not rushing back in, so I opened the door and said, ‘What happened, what happened?’ and a kid said there was a shooter. So I turned to [Assistant Principal of Organization Jeremy] Rynders and said we have to shelter in. [We] went into his office because he has a [loudspeaker] and I called the shelter-in. And then for the next however many hours, I continued to work the loudspeaker.”

Faculty and students were instructed to remain inside the building and respond to announcements while conducting business as usual. All staff and students receive training in the GRP through drills that are conducted throughout the school year. “You have to be certified in school-building leadership to become an assistant principal,” Pedrick said. “So there’s that training, but then, schools are required to run drills and have meetings of the BRT, which is the building response team. I also run the crisis team. All the drills that [Assistant Principal of Security, Health, and Physical Education Brian Moran] runs really helps keep what to do fresh in your mind.”

However, under these circumstances, it became clear that this training did little to alleviate the anxiety of the community: an emotional response to terrorism can’t be taught. “As Pedrick was talking, we heard shots fired. [Computer Science teacher JonAlf Dyrland-Weaver] peeked out the window, and he said that there was a smashed school bus,” senior Adam Abbas said. “We assumed that the noise was the engine popping. Then, we start checking the news. When we found out that it was a shooting, it still hadn’t clicked in my mind.”

As the shelter-in commenced, Parent Coordinator Dina Ingram sent out an e-mail to inform parents of the active situation that was occurring right outside Stuyvesant and the procedures that were being followed.

Students in the building began using social media to figure out what had happened, receiving messages through Facebook from friends who were outside, or even watching Snapchat videos from students who recorded the event. Others looked to Twitter and news websites for live updates.

Despite rumors that Stuyvesant students were hurt and that the school bus had children from P226M, the special education school located within Stuyvesant’s building, the bus was not connected to Stuyvesant, according to Principal Eric Contreras. The injured students are 14 and 17 years old, and P226M serves 18-21 year olds.

While Pedrick kept announcing that the shelter-in would continue, police officers and FBI agents began circulating the building. “Stuyvesant is a location which offers a conference space with a smartboard, online access, and conference calling. The police requested the use of the facilities to set up an operations hub. The same thing happened during 9/11,” Contreras said.

With Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and counterterrorism officials sealing off the conference room to coordinate the investigation, the administration had to work with NYPD to start planning how they would dismiss students in an orderly manner so that they would not compromise the ongoing investigations. “I started working with Moran on a plan to dismiss students while we waited. We knew that Chambers was closed and that multiple blocks of the West Side Highway were closed. We also knew that we didn’t have access to the bridge,” Contreras said. “I asked the staff to set up the CASS [scanner] system so we could make sure that everyone was here.”

Once the coordinated evacuation began, NYPD sergeants visited each classroom to inform students and staff about the situation and elicit any pertinent information students may have had regarding the attack.

Meanwhile, the school administration figured out the logistics for students, supplying MetroCards and designating an area in the theater where students could wait for their parents.

“Once they gave us the go ahead, we dismissed by floors and asked students to scan out,” Contreras said. “We asked teachers to line the road along River Terrace to guide students to the main streets. That was another big moment for me because I saw teachers whose days were supposed to [be] over hours earlier line up in the cold and stay there. It took time to dismiss, but they stayed there.”

After all the students were safely dismissed, administration stayed at the building until past 11 p.m. in order to plan for Wednesday. “Collaborating with the Chancellor’s office and the Mayor’s office, we decided that we needed to be open the next day. I also took the decision to cancel homework and exams the next day to ease some of the stress,” Contreras said. “We realized that the streets were safe and that there wasn’t an active crime scene so we thought it was best to stay open.”

In The Wake of Terror

Students and parents received an e-mail that night from Ingram on behalf of Contreras, addressing the incident and outlining protocol for the next day. A several-block radius was closed off for police and FBI investigation, and the e-mail included a special map for walking to school. Students were not allowed to go outside during free periods or lunch, and there was no access to the Tribeca bridge.

“Coming home and realizing what we had gone through and that something awful had happened was really hard,” Abbas said.

In an effort to reflect on the events, the Student Union began organizing a response. “We asked every student to wear black as a way to pay tribute to the victims of the attack and a symbol of the Stuyvesant community’s unity,” Student Union Vice President Alexa Valentino said.

On Wednesday morning, Stuyvesant students walked to school along police-barricaded sidewalks. “It’s really weird seeing how the street’s empty, being rerouted. It’s just surreal, knowing what I saw on the news last night actually happened to me and I was there,” sophomore Caitlin Chao said after her Wednesday morning commute.

At the same time, federal prosecutors began filing terrorism charges against Saipov, attributing the attack to ISIS. Saipov waived his Miranda Rights at Bellevue and had begun detailing his year-long plot to drive south to the Brooklyn Bridge, hoping to ruthlessly murder people on Halloween.

The DOE and Stuyvesant administration provided several resources to help students and staff cope with Tuesday’s events, including advice from the National Association of School Psychologists’ website, printed and distributed on green papers, that advised teachers on how to discuss the event and help their students cope.

“We kept the regular counselors in the guidance suite and opened up the theater to anyone who [needed] additional support. We’re also collaborating with an outside agency to get more support for any students who just need to talk to someone about all of this,” Contreras said. A homeroom schedule was implemented in order to make an announcement about the counseling resources.

Support was also provided for adults. United Federation of Teachers Chapter Leader and statistics teacher Dr. Bernard Feigenbaum worked to get support for teachers, and counseling was available for school safety agents. “Coming back the next day was really - I was overwhelmed, but they brought in counselors, for us as well as you guys which was really good,” Agent Taylor said.

Some teachers decided it was important to address the attack in class the next day. “We spent a lot of time in most of my classes talking about it, and I am particularly conscious of how difficult it is for our Muslim students for the man who committed this act to have said ‘Allahu Akbar,’ which is a prayer that our observing Muslim students say dozens and dozens of times a day, and it only means good and loving things,” English teacher Katherine Fletcher said.

For teachers who taught at Stuyvesant during 9/11, it was difficult not to draw parallels. “The feeling was very similar, the sense of some kind of outside threat that quickly became international news,” Assistant Principal of English Eric Grossman said. “We were in the building, getting e-mails and texts from former colleagues, former students, and faculty who were watching live while we were inside. The scale, thankfully, was very different. The sense of participating in something historically can be tragic.”

In the aftermath of crisis, Stuyvesant students and faculty attempted to resume their routines. “Almost all our students came. We have great attendance for our faculty, but it was better attendance than most days,” Contreras said.

As students left the building after their extracurricular activities, Saipov was wheeled into a Manhattan federal courtroom, accused of killing eight and injuring 11. Thankfully, Dr. Zhang returned to school on Thursday. The dead include five Argentinian tourists, Hernán Mendoza, Diego Angelini, Alejandro Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij, and Hernán Ferrucci, who came to New York to celebrate their 30-year high school reunion, Belgian tourist Anne-Laure Decadt, New Jersey resident Darren Drake, and Manhattan resident Nicholas Cleves.