Subway Attack Proves City’s Resilience Again: ‘We Don’t Have a Choice’

Faith Murray’s employer offered to send her home to the Bronx by taxi from her job as a nanny in Manhattan’s West Village on Tuesday. Her boss was worried: A gunman who had unloaded 33 bullets into a New York City subway car that morning was still on the loose.

Ms. Murray politely refused. As a New Yorker, she said, avoiding the subway was unthinkable. But even more than that, it was the statement it would make: that the city was giving in.

“Being a New Yorker, we are all used to these things, but it’s not going to stop us,” Ms. Murray said on a balmy Friday, two days after police arrested the man they said had carried out the attack. “That’s what they want, for you to be scared, and they are not going to win.”

She continued down the street, pushing her young charge in his stroller: “I’m sorry, uh-uh, no way.”

A big city that has been buffeted by trauma — terrorists, hurricanes, disease — New York is well equipped to power through a crisis, or at least try. Just days after the rush-hour attack, subway ridership was ticking back up, the tipsters who had helped catch the suspect were basking in the city’s praise and the sun was shining.

On Friday, as the suspect, Frank R. James, 62, remained in jail, charged with the federal crime of committing a terrorist act on a mass transit system, the victims who were wounded in the attack continued their recoveries, and the city was once again picking itself up and going about its business.

“We are a fundamentally strong people, we are a diverse people, we carry a lot of exposure to past trauma that we’ve endured,” said Dr. Charles R. Marmar, the chair of the psychiatry department at the NYU Langone Health hospital system. “In the same way we are Covid- inoculated, if you successfully master past stressors, then you become somewhat stress-inoculated.”

Still, more than two years into a grinding pandemic, the need to dip into even deeper reserves of fortitude can be taxing in itself.

“Frank Sinatra said: ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,’” said Robert Finkel, a lawyer who lives in Manhattan. “But why does it have to be so tough? Why are we so proud of that?”

The day Mr. James was arrested in the East Village, subway ridership rebounded, transit officials said, up about 2 percent after dropping the day before in the shooting’s immediate aftermath. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, said 3.23 million people used the system on Wednesday, about 91,000 fewer than on the same day the week before.

The decline this week follows what had been the system’s highest-ridership week this year, with passengers gradually returning after a steep drop-off in ridership at the start of the pandemic.

“We’re starting to see ridership come back, even after the incredibly disturbing news that we all saw this week,” Janno Lieber, the authority’s chairman, at a news conference on Thursday.

New Yorkers — many of them, anyway — are acutely aware of what the city has been through.

“You can’t even fathom what it would be like to not be waiting for constant impending doom or the other shoe to drop,” said Serge Souvenir, 35, a heating and cooling technician who lives in Rosedale, Queens. Mr. Souvenir remembers the dust from the Twin Towers’ collapse drifting across the East River and into his high school gym class in Brooklyn, and he recalls thinking then that the mountain of rubble was too vast to ever be cleared.

Serge Souvenir said he draws strength from the way so much of the city seems to carry on in the wake of tragedy.Credit…Sean Sirota for The New York Times

But standing on Hudson Street in the West Village where he was working Friday morning, he pointed south, to where a new tower looms above the skyline, built where the two World Trade Center towers once stood.

“Look at the things we go through, and we bounce right back, like, ‘Oh look, another day in the office,” Mr. Souvenir said. “When you look around and you see all the eight million people lace their battle boots right back up, like, ‘All right, the world keeps turning,’ — you follow suit.”

In this way, the city’s ability to overcome hardship is contagious.

“The community fabric becomes a scaffold for the individual,” said Dr. Darshan Mehta, the medical director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, where many survivors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing sought treatment for emotional trauma.

On Tuesday, the city’s schools chancellor, David C. Banks, visited schools near the site of the shooting around dismissal time to check on students and teachers who had been forced to shelter in place order during the manhunt.

“He was taken aback by how they had everything under control,” said Nathaniel Styer, an Education Department spokesman. “Those kids were surrounded by love and cared for and supported.”

For some people, there is little choice but to bounce back. One man who survived the N train attack and filmed some of the aftermath, said in an interview on Tuesday that he had rushed straight from the scene to work at a nearby bodega.

The man, who did not give his name because he is not permitted to work legally in the United States, said that after changing his clothes and drinking some water, he was soon behind a hot grill, doing his job.

Bernard Middleton, 58, a retired city bus driver from Harlem, was back on the subway shortly after the shooting, seated on a downtown 1 train.

“We don’t have a choice,” Mr. Middleton said. “If we have to get to where we are going, we have to ride the subway, and we have to be vigilant. But because nobody died, it kind of helped me to get on the subway this morning. But I am still a little shaky.”

There are ways to ease the burden that comes with witnessing so much trauma, including talking to friends and other New Yorkers and avoiding too many images of disturbing events, said Dr. Marmar of NYU Langone.

Cellphone videos blazed across the internet after the attack — of a train filled with smoke from devices that the authorities say Mr. James dropped before he began shooting, and of passengers moaning quietly in pain. Turn them off, Dr. Marmar advised.

But “don’t avoid past reminders of it, or you risk becoming phobic,” he said. “It is important to take a few days, recover and then get back on the N train.”

Raven Haynes, a train conductor who was working on the N train when a man began shooting, said she planned to return to work as soon as she could.Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

On Tuesday, Raven Haynes, a train conductor, was working inside the N train heading toward the 36th Street station in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, when the shots rang out in the second car. She watched as frightened passengers streamed out of the smoke-filled subway.

At a news conference on Friday, she said that she had taken a few days off since the shooting, but that quitting had not crossed her mind.

“As soon as they allow me to go back,” Ms. Haynes said. “I’m going back.”

Emma G. Fitzsimmons Michael Gold and Raúl Vilchis contributed reporting.

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