U.S. News

Witness: Out of the theater, into the drama in New York

In the following piece, four Reuters colleagues describe how their night at the theater took a dramatic turn as they found themselves reporting on a car bomb plot in the heart of the city.

Jonathan Spicer, who joined Reuters in 2005, has covered exchanges and trading in New York since July, 2008. Prior to that he wrote about markets, miners, politics and general news in the Toronto bureau.

Steve Eder has covered investment banks in New York since May 2009. He has written about the aftermath of the financial crisis, the debate over Wall Street pay, and Goldman Sachs’s rebound. Before joining Reuters he was an investigative reporter with The Toledo Blade newspaper in Ohio.

Deepa Seetharaman is based in New York and writes about airlines, hotels and cruise lines for Reuters. She joined Reuters in 2008 as a summer intern on the drugs team and has also covered the U.S. stock market.

Clare Baldwin is based in New York and writes about IPOs and wealth management for Reuters. She has written for Reuters since 2007 and previously was based in San Francisco. Her assignments have included everything from alleged Bigfoot remains to speaking with former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld.

By Jonathan Spicer, Steve Eder, Deepa Seetharaman and Clare Baldwin

NEW YORK (Reuters) - We emerged, like many others on a Saturday night in Times Square, from a dark theater into a real drama on the streets outside.

“Over here,” New York City police officers hollered, “You’re going the wrong way!” they shouted at women and children in saris just exiting a traditional Indian dance performance.

Under the nonstop glow of Times Square’s irradiated billboards, the crowds had been evacuated and there was an eerie absence of people.

The four of us, Reuters reporters who normally cover business stories from banking and exchanges to wealth management and airlines, found ourselves at the “Crossroads of the World” as a bomb plot unfolded.

We scurried for details to relay to our colleagues writing the story. Thousands of tourists and theatergoers bristled at the inconvenience of being unable to enter their hotels, retrieve their cars and meet up with friends.

“I can’t afford to park in that garage for another hour,” complained one man to a plainclothes officer.

The officer responded: “Sir, Times Square is sleeping tonight.”

This busy midtown Manhattan junction of entertainment and shopping does not sleep easily.

What began as a report of a car fire at about 6:30 p.m. emerged as the latest attempted attack on New York City - a potentially lethal plot that city officials acknowledged was foiled in large part by luck as the crudely crafted bomb malfunctioned before it could do any harm.

The Nissan Pathfinder sport utility vehicle at the center of the security alert contained a bomb fashioned from backyard barbecue gas tanks, firecrackers and alarm clocks. Authorities said later it could have killed many people if it had exploded.

As authorities clamped a security zone around the vehicle early in the evening, one man standing at the northern perimeter of the police blockade confided to a friend, “I’ve lived here for 20 years and never seen Times Square like this.”


It may have seemed strangely unreal early on, but “this wasn’t make-believe,” as one city official put it.

Rumors, which later turned out to be false, spread among passers-by that similar emergency situations were taking place in downtown Manhattan, in Chicago, and elsewhere.

As the night wore on, the perimeter around the vehicle expanded, and more and more officers were sent to the scene where a robot and bomb squad worked.

Just after 10 p.m., New York Police Department sent in its so-called “Hercules Unit” -- the heavy weapons team reserved for emergency situations. Police told anxious onlookers that it could be hours before Times Square would be reopened.

A firefighter on the west side of the perimeter on 43rd Street in Times Square after 10:30 p.m. suggested to a family with kids that the children be taken home just to be “extra cautious.”

“It is still a hot zone -- not completely secure,” the firefighter said, beads of sweat trickling from his forehead.


“I’ve been out all night in these heels and I’m tired! Where am I gonna sleep?” a young woman barred from her room at the Millennium Broadway hotel told officers with a flirty pout at about 3:30 a.m.

Answered one: “I’ve been working 18 hours straight,” before spitting and turning away.

Most of Times Square was finally reopened to vehicles and pedestrians shortly after 5 a.m. That meant a big Saturday night for Broadway shows was largely lost. Many patrons waited fruitlessly for hours in hopes of seeing their shows.

By 2 a.m. the would-be theater-goers had gone home and tourists blocked from their hotels had no choice but to make other arrangements. Others stuck around. One man even pulled up a folding chair to watch the late-night drama.

Around then, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrived with police brass and New York Governor David Paterson to tell reporters exactly how bad it could have been.

Everything was under control, Bloomberg said, still dressed in the tuxedo he had worn for black tie gala dinner with President Barack Obama a few hours earlier in Washington.

“Let me just say that we are very lucky,” the mayor began.