I saw someone get shot at a New York ice rink

‘A boy lay still on the ice, red pooled around him’

The first time I visited New York City was in November 2013. The Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center had just gone up the day my train pulled into Penn Station in downtown Manhattan. I had come up to the city to visit my high school friend Shayna, who was then a college freshman at the Fashion Institute of Technology just blocks from Times Square.

My first night in the city, we went to see Ed Sheeran play Madison Square Garden to a sold out crowd. It was magical – the perfect start to my visit to the big enchanted city of skyscrapers, unforgettable sights, fashionistas, celebrities, crowds, culture and music.

On the last night of my visit, Shayna and I decided to go ice skating at Bryant Park as a fun “end of trip” celebration. The famous outdoor rink was a gorgeous scene with the lights on the surrounding skyscrapers illuminating the crisp night. The ice glowed a brilliant white. The crowd of revelers was in a merry mood. Children laughing, couples holding hands and kids racing painted a postcard picture.

There was Shayna, flirting with the rink guard, shamelessly pretending she couldn’t skate so he would hold her hand. The faces of people watching the skaters from outside the rink blurred into streaks of animated color as I picked up momentum. I zoomed around the ice, my red scarf whipping out behind me, feeling the euphoria and grace of such effortless speed. I banked around the outer turn and began skating down the long side of the rink. That’s when I heard it. A loud pop.

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Was that a firecracker? As I turned my head to the left, another pop sounded. This time I saw the sparks. Not a firecracker. I zeroed in on the gray steel barrel held by someone right next to me. The person holding it was a vague outline in a dark red hoodie. But I saw every inch of the gun aimed as it was held suspended over the wall.

Another bang. Air swooshed by my head, the end of the gun sparked red. I lunged full force to my right and slammed onto the ice with a sickening crack of my knees and elbows. Free sliding across cold, I heard screams. My velocity slid me a few feet across the ice. I lay motionless. It was after I stopped moving that I fully registered the surrounding sounds of mayhem: shouts, shrill terrified screams, skates scraping ice as they sliced past me in a frenzy of motion. Everyone fled. I must stay still. Still. Still.

The chill of ice seemed to penetrate every fiber of my body. The only sound in the now deathly quiet was wind whispering across the ice. Finally, after what seemed like eons but was probably mere seconds, I lifted my head. Pushing up, metal blades slipping under me, I stumbled to my feet, all the while moving to my right towards the single exit on the far side of the rink.

I looked behind me. A boy lay still on the ice. The color red puddled around him. Was he dead? Numbly, I skated across the completely deserted ice oval to the glass doors of the building and pushed them open. As a blast of warm air hit me, I heard the screaming again.

A woman frantically sobbed, “My babies! Where are my babies?!” The skate guard yelled to his friend, “We gotta get them outta here man – there’s a shooter!”

Across the building at the far exit, a mob of people still in their skates pushed and shoved their way out in a heaving mass of bodies. Where was Shayna? I had no idea. I began to shake and sob uncontrollably. A man coming out of the men’s room in a confused state looked at me and asked, “Why are you crying?”

I replied, “I just saw someone get shot.”

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I collapsed onto a bench next to the wall and began uncontrollably rocking back and forth. Shouts and moving bodies all around me blurred into a muffled shifting maze. Not knowing what else to do, and wanting to feel a little less helplessly frozen, I stood up and moved to the booth where you store your shoes while you skate. The employee behind the counter was being bombarded on all sides by people screaming for their shoes. Somehow, in the midst of the chaos, he zeroed in on my tear-streaked face. I held my numbered piece of paper out to him and just said, “Please?” He nodded at me, took my number and went to find my shoes.

When he handed me the bag with my and Shayna’s stuff in it, I backed up through the mass of people and stumbled back to my bench. I had begun pulling off my skates when my cell phone rang. It was Shayna. I answered, but could not hear her at all because of all the shouting. So I just repeated into the mouthpiece a description of where I was over and over and over again until I saw her familiar form materializing out of the crowd.

She ran to me and we hugged, thankful the other was safe. She had been in the ladies’ room when the shooting happened and had seen nothing. When I told her how close I had been to the fired shots, she whimpered in shock and began stroking the top of my head to comfort me. Everything felt numb to me. My ears were ringing so badly from the close range gun report, I could barely hear anything.

An officer walked up and began talking to Shayna. The police had arrived and barricaded the building with everyone that hadn’t already gotten out still inside. Emergency services were on the scene to help the boy on the ice. No one was allowed to leave yet. The shooter had disappeared into the night. I leaned down and finished pulling my skates off and putting my boots back on. I felt more secure since I was actually capable of walking without my feet collapsing sideways at the ankles.

It was hours and hours of waiting in a seated line on the hallway floor to get out of the building. The police needed to question anyone who had seen the shooting on the ice. They let people out one by one after asking each person questions. Luckily I wasn’t questioned long, as they had already gotten a good description of the shooter from other people who had been standing on the outside of the rink and had a clear view of him. They mainly questioned me about the weapon and from my description, narrowed it down to the type of gun that was used.

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Finally, Shayna and I were out of the stuffy heat in the building and back outside in the fresh autumn air. We got back to Brooklyn around 4am. I already had a taxi scheduled to pick me up at 6am to transport me to Penn Station to catch the early morning train home. I didn’t sleep at all in those two hours, but lay stiffly silent in the dark of Shayna’s dorm room, feeling numb, cold and like my head was exploding.

Over the next few days, I found out the boy who was shot – the one laying in a pool of his own blood on the ice – was not dead, but he had been paralyzed from the waist down. He was only 14 years old. The shooting happened after a man refused to hand over an expensive Marmot jacket to the shooter. He was shot too, in the hand, abdomen and thigh.

The 14-year-old boy who was paralyzed and the other skater injured in the shooting both suffered visible wounds from the attack at Bryant Park. As for myself – who had been mere inches from the shooter and his victims – my wound was not visible. It did not bleed or require immediate medical attention. But, I was wounded. And I am sure I am not the only one on the ice that night to experience the same lingering wound.

I suffered from PTSD for a good while after that. Loud noises terrified me. I had bad dreams and imagined people on the campus quad or on the street downtown were carrying guns. Even now, almost three years afterward, whenever I talk about the shooting I get jumpy and my voice shakes. The shooting and close shave with injury or possible death was a moment of my life that forever changed me.

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