After subway-shooting suspect Frank R. James was apprehended Wednesday afternoon in the East Village, I saw several viral tweets claiming that the heroic man who spotted him, Zack Tahhan, is an East Village bodega worker. As a longtime East Village resident and bodega frequenter who did not recognize Zack, despite living for six years on the very block where this all went down, I decided to dig around around to figure out exactly how the situation played out. As it turns out, the whole thing was a moment of beautiful New York City teamwork: normal people banding together to help end the citywide search for James, who is alleged to have injured 23 people in the rush hour attack. Tahhan, who works for MACA Security Integrations and says he’s from New Jersey, was fixing a security camera at Saifee Hardware, my beloved local hardware store, where I have spent thousands of dollars on plants and shower-curtain liners. Tahhan, one of his co-workers, and Saifee manager Francisco Puebla spotted James on the block, and the three men worked together to get the attention of authorities. I called up Puebla to hear his side of the story.
Hi, Francisco! It’s been a crazy day.
I would say yes. I have never been in such a situation.
Tell me how your morning started.
I came to work, like I do every day. I am a working person; I support a family. My day starts at 9 o’clock, and it went smoothly. Then I was out there with two gentlemen who were renewing the camera system for the store. We were outside discussing where we wanted the new camera to point. And at that moment, somebody was walking right on the sidewalk, and my eyes went right to his face and I said, “That’s the guy.”
The alleged shooter — Frank R. James?
Yes, I said, “This is the guy from the subway.” So I told the other two gentlemen, “Just confirm with me if this is the guy. Because I feel like it is.” So the other gentleman pulled out his phone and looked and said, “Yeah.”
He searched for him on his phone?
Yes. So the three of us said, “Yes, it is.” So after that, we said, “You call 911.” And then we said to each other, “No, you call. You call!” And I said, in the end, “I am not going to call. Because I am not 100 percent sure it’s the person. And I don’t want to turn in someone [who’s innocent]. I won’t feel good. So I won’t call.” But, at that moment, it was a red light and there was a police car right on the road. So I never thought twice. I just went right up to the police car and I said, “Officer, I hope I am not making a mistake, but the guy, who shot the people yesterday morning, is right in the middle of the block. He just passed by here. And I think it’s him.” So the officer drove slowly, reached him, got out, and they just stopped him right there. And after that, many police cars came, and that’s how they did it.
So the police didn’t see him until you pointed him out?
I told them, “I am not 100 percent sure, but I don’t want to feel guilty, like I picked out the wrong person.” But they searched him, and then, yeah.
Zack doesn’t work with you at Saifee, right?
Yes. We were three people involved. The third person was Mohammed, I don’t know his last name, and I think it’s Zack or Izak. Those two guys work for the security camera company. They only came to work to put the new cameras in. They’ve been working for two days, and tomorrow is the third day.
Why were you fixing the cameras? Did it have anything to do with the security camera issue on the subway yesterday?
No, we’re just updating the system. We were just discussing where we wanted to point them.
Did you get the sense that the cops would have just driven by if you three hadn’t seen Frank?
I’m not sure if they noticed that or not. But my point is: We have to look out for each other. That’s how I feel. But thank God he caught him. I hope people feel more safe.
Did you feel scared when you saw him?
Oh, yes. I felt panicked. Because he was carrying a backpack with something inside—you could see that it was heavy and he almost could not carry it. So yes, I felt panicked.
What was the energy like on the block after Frank was taken in?
A lot of people were walking, doing videos. It was so crowded, with all these social media people. Nobody knew who had said something about [Frank] until we went to the police station. I told Mohammed, “Listen, we need to go to the police department and say something.” And then he said, “Yeah, I think you’re right. Let’s go.” But by that time, his cousin, Zack, was already on social media saying all of the stories that we did, what we saw, and how we took action. My concern is that everybody stays safe. I have family, I have kids, I have a wife. They always take the train. That’s my thing. I always look at who’s around me. These days, so many things happen, you know? I am the manager of the store, so I’ve seen so many crazy things.
Is the block still hectic? Are people trying to get in touch with you?
I have so many messages. During work I am not allowed to be on my cell phone. I am the manager, so I am the mirror of my employees, and I don’t like to be on my cell phone that much.
You’re gonna get off work in about 10 minutes. What will you do?
I have an interview with CNN. And then I am just going to go home and relax.