Thursday, September 12th, 2002: 8:00 p.m.:
I finished my workout at the New York Sports Club in Manhattan and then stopped by a nearby coffee house to read. I found one empty chair at a table near the front. There were several people at the table and I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me – a conversation which would result in the most harrowing few hours I have ever experienced.
He told me his name was Vincent. Sitting at the table with Vincent was his friend Arthur. During our conversation I learned that Arthur lived near 25th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan – nothing more. As I talked with Vincent I could sense that his was not an easy life. He came from a broken home and had grown up with his mother, a Jehova’s Witness, his sister, and his autistic brother. Throughout his childhood, he relayed, he was constantly abused mentally and, on occasion, physically and sexually. At one point his mother tried to convince him to kill himself since she and the congregation believed he was demonized. He was constantly told by elders that he was worthless and should leave the congregation.
Vincent told me that he was currently living with his father and his father’s new wife in Brooklyn. He said that this night he might stay at his uncle’s apartment in the east village. He did not tell me his last name, his address, or his phone number – I would later find out that these were intentional omissions.
As we talked, it became increasingly clear to me that his was not an easy life and this Thursday, in particular, was not one of his better days. I had planned to go to dinner and asked if he would like to join me. He did.
After we left I realized that I had left my cell phone on the table at the coffee house and I went back to retrieve it – it was not there. I went to the payphone inside the coffee house and called my cell phone and then quickly made my way to the front to listen for the sound of ringing.
I saw another guy seated on the planter out front look down at the phone in his hand, my phone. I recognized him as having also been at the table with us a few minutes earlier. He saw me and handed the phone to me and said he had planned on waiting there until I returned so he could return my phone. Perhaps. Seated next to him on the planter was Danny, a cashier for the coffee house who was on a smoke break. I took back my phone and Vincent and I headed off for dinner.
As we talked over dinner Vincent continued with how unrewarding his life had been. He also made quite clear how little he thought of himself. His ears were too small – they were not. One eye was slightly higher than the other – and whose aren’t. He hated his name. He never would let anyone see him without a shirt. He talked in a subdued monotone voice and the years of belittling at the hands of those responsible for raising him were clearly expressed in his every word and mannerism.
I gave Vincent my card and told him to call me if he ever wanted to talk or needed any type of help. He told me that he was going to be leaving the next day to see his mother in Kingston and would not be able to call me, saying that where he was going there wouldn’t be any phones. I then suggested he call me when he got back in the city but he said he was not coming back, and would not be able to call me anytime after our dinner had ended. He made a point to tell me how pleased he was that we had met and that he could meet someone as nice as me before he went to his mother’s. Missed clues.
Vincent did say that he absolutely did not want to go to his father’s home since he and his father hated each other and Vincent did not get along with his step-mother. He said he was probably going to spend the night at his uncle’s home in the east village, something he also did not want to do.
Due to the late hour I was not too keen on driving the hour or so home and I offered, and Vincent accepted, my invitation to stay at a nearby hotel.
At the hotel, Vincent continued with his subdued, emotionally bankrupt demeanor. At one point, he called a friend and explained to the person on the other end that he would be going to Kingston and would not be coming back and would not be able to say good bye in person to this friend. I tried not to listen to the conversation, only hearing several words throughout. The call ended a minute or so after it began.
When we awoke the next morning Vincent looked out the window and saw all the trash and poverty evident in the alley. He commented how much he liked the view. He was serious.
We left the hotel and I dropped Vincent off at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 11th Street – his uncle’s neighborhood. Again I told him to contact me and again he said he could not. He walked towards an apartment building entrance as I drove off.
Monday, September 16th, 2002: 10:20 p.m.
I had just finished working since 8:00 a.m. guarding the local Jewish Center during their services. I had not seen nor heard from Vincent since dropping him off three days earlier. I was standing at the desk area of my police station when my cell phone rang, “It’s Vin”.
Vincent explained that he had just gotten back from visiting his mother and wanted to call me and tell me again how much he appreciated the time we had spent talking and the kindness I showed him. I asked what his immediate plans were and he said he had none. Again he said he was leaving and where he was going there would be no phones. The frying pan hit me in the side of my head.
“What do you mean?” I persisted. After a long pause, “I am going to my father’s home to kill myself. I have been planning this for weeks. I want him to find me lying in bed dead in the morning. I am calling you from a payphone so you can’t trace the call and if you try to talk me out of it I am going to hang up and you will never hear from me again.” How wonderful.
Vincent explained that he still hated his father and wanted his father to find him dead in bed. He had already made preparations. He prepared letters to friends that were ready to be mailed as soon as he got home. He has separated personal effects that he wanted to go to various people and had notes indicating who gets what. He had stored about a hundred or so sleeping pills that were waiting for him when he returned home so he could “go away for good and start over”. He repeated that he wanted me to know how much he appreciated my expressions of concern and he wished me well and said I should not feel bad, that it wasn’t my fault.
As I was standing in my station at the desk on my cell phone I was frantically writing notes on a pad to my civilian dispatcher Chris, explaining in short-hand “friend on my cell phone” “ going to kill himself” “can we trace call” “212-…….”. Chris began his magic with our communication system while I tried to keep Vincent on the phone, not trying to talk him out of it so he wouldn’t hang up while at the same time trying to talk him out of it.
As we talked, Vincent was advised to deposit more money or the call would end. He had no more money. I told him to hang up and call me right back, changing the area code of my number from 914 to 866 which is a feature I have that would make the call a toll-free call for him. He agreed.
After several seconds that seemed to last about three days my phone rang and we continued our conversation.
I rushed to the back of the building where I knew my friend Joe was, knowing that he had been a cop in the city before coming to my department and he could help in tracking down Vincent.
Together, with the assistance of Joe, and other officers who happened to be in the building, we tried to figure out how to get the Police/EMS personnel to Vincent before he left the area. We would not succeed.
As I was talking with Vincent he sensed something was up and asked if I was tracing the call. I said I was not, that a payphone can’t be traced – although it could, and was. Just then the low battery alert sounded on my cell phone. Having been on all day it had discharged and was about to turn off. Figures.
I explained the battery problem to Vincent and asked him to call back. He refused. He said he had been planning his exit for weeks and had a schedule to keep. He wanted to make sure he could mail out all the letters he had prepared for friends, cut up the pills that were waiting, and make sure that he was dead by the time his father found him in the morning. I repeatedly told him not to hang up and to continue talking with me. He said good bye a few times and then the line went silent. For the next few seconds I could not speak, and could barely stand. I waited, but Vincent did not call back.
Chris then advised that the call had been traced to a payphone in front of the Port Authority bus terminal on 8th Avenue at 41st and emergency personnel were enroute. By the time they arrived, Vincent was already on a subway heading towards his fate somewhere in Brooklyn.
From my station I then called the Kingston Police Department and asked for any phone numbers they may have for any Jehova’s congregations in their area. I was given six.
I phoned the numbers and received five no-answers and one answering machine.
After conferring with the other officers at my job, it was decided that the only chance left was for me to race to New York City and attempt to find someone who knew Vincent and might know either where he lived or his phone number. Realizing that every second mattered I left for the city.
As I drove to the city I was in contact with my desk officer to share any new information that may have come up. I phoned the Kingston numbers again and got the same results, with one exception. A woman answered one number, said she was a Jehova, but could not recognize the woman I described as being Vincent’s mother.
My thoughts then turned to who I might look for in the city that would know anything about Vincent.
Arthur from 25th and 3rd.
The others at the coffee house table that might know Vincent.
The guy who found my cell phone.
I called information and got the number for the coffee house. I called and luckily Colin, the only person I know who works there, was working and answered the phone. I explained the situation to him and he said he did not know Vincent or Arthur. I described to Colin the worker who was seated on the planter when I retrieved my cell phone. Colin said his name was Danny but he was not working. Perhaps Danny knew the guy who returned my phone and since that guy appeared to know Vincent, maybe he had his number or address. I asked Colin to try to contact Danny, and any others who might know Vincent, realizing that as I spoke with Colin, it was very likely that Vincent was making preparations for his final exit.
As I neared the city I called Colin back and he said he had been in touch with Danny – no luck. Danny did not know the guy who found my phone and he did not know Vincent or Arthur. Colin also checked with others in the coffee house and no one knew them either.
I arrived at the coffee house and began a frantic search there and in neighboring clubs, bars, restaurants, delis, and sidewalks for Arthur, the phone guy, or anyone else who I might recognize as having been at the table. My search lasted until 1:00 a.m. and I was unsuccessful. I could not find anyone to help and I knew that it was likely that Vincent was at that time lying in bed falling asleep – for the last time, unbeknownst to his father and step-mother who were likely only a room away. I cannot describe here the depth of my feeling of helplessness at that point.
Tuesday, September 17th, 1:30 a.m.:
A new day. As 1:30 a.m. approached, I knew that even if I did somehow find a connection to Vincent, it would likely be too late. I went into one last bar out of desperation. My final plan of action was that if I was unsuccessful in this last bar I was going to park at 25th and 3rd and see if Arthur happened to come by and save the day. I knew it was highly unlikely that he would be arriving home at that late hour on a work day but I had run out of options.
Well, at least I was consistent. I once again was unsuccessful at this last bar and resigned myself to the horrible eventuality; I was going to call the King’s County medical examiner’s office the following afternoon and find out all I needed to know about Vincent – hours too late.
I left the bar and began to walk to my car. Approaching from the other way was a friend of mine that I had not seen in over a year – Dax. Dax asked how I was and I told him of how he was running into me at what was likely the most harrowing period of my life. That my friend was likely lying in bed, slipping into unconsciousness and eventual death, and there was nothing I could do about it.
He suggested many solutions, but all had been tried and were unsuccessful. I accepted his offer to accompany me to 25th and 3rd hoping against hope that Arthur would pass by and save the day.
We arrived at the intersection and parked. My friend Vincent was likely dead. Dax and I talked, alternating between common interests, memories of our past, my constant thoughts of what was happening somewhere in Brooklyn at that exact moment.
I told Dax how I am known to be able to get things done, how I seem to always be able to figure out a way to do something. I told him how my high school caption reads in part, “There’s always a way.” Not any more.
I told him how horrible I was going to feel if, in the ensuing days, I realized some way that I could have located Vincent but had not thought about it in time. I must’ve begun to ramble a bit since I could see that Dax was becoming a bit more interested in checking out the contents of my Jeep and its features, than he was in my musings.
He was impressed with my cell phone and commented on how expensive it looked. Strange how you remember things. I recalled hearing a similar comment in the recent past about that very same topic – my expensive looking cell phone. Straight out of a scene from a movie the frying pan did its thing again. In that instant I remembered where I had heard that comment and who had said it. Vincent!
After having been met with complete and nearly overwhelming failure at every turn in the previous frantic few hours, after running up against a brick wall at every turn, a glimmer of hope emerged.
In those next few seconds after Dax’s seemingly insignificant comment, I remembered that while we were at the hotel Vincent had commented on the quality of my cell phone and then said he had to make a call to his friend. I also had a vague recollection of seeing the number that he had called. I could only remember the area code, 646, and Vincent’s comment that it was not a long distance call.
I thought I remembered seeing it in my recent call list. Sitting there with Dax the feeling of urgency was intense. Even if I got the information I needed, I did not think we would be in time.
I checked my phone and found that I had made too many calls since Vincent’s call and his call to the 646 number had fallen off the list of recent calls. Dax then suggested that I call Nextel and explain the urgency and see if they could possibly look up my account and give me the number.
I called Nextel and heard a wonderful sound. A recorded voice that advised me, “You have reached Nextel customer service during non-business hours. Please call back during normal business hours.”. You gotta be kidding me.
I then spoke with Dax about how it was apparently meant to be, I thought. At every turn I was hitting a brick wall. Nothing was going to stop Vincent’s attempt. I could no longer say that there was always a way. Sometimes there is not.
Dax then commented on how strange it was that he had been commenting on the quality of my phone and how it triggered my memory of Vincent’s call from the hotel room. Then the frying pan hit me on the other side of my head – as Dax said, “From the hotel room”. Vincent’s call was made from the hotel room. But he didn’t use my cell phone, he used the hotel room phone and it was on the hotel phone bill that I had seen the phone number he had called.
I phoned the hotel and the receptionist was able to pull up my bill and find the phone number that Vincent had called. Time was moving fast, it was now 2:30 a.m.
So, at 2:30 a.m. on a work night I called the phone number that Vincent had called, fully expecting brick wall number nine. Nope. Much to my surprise, an actual person answered. I explained who I was and the extreme urgency of what was happening. The male on the other end, Mike, said he did not know anyone named Vincent, did not receive any call the other night, and was going to hang up. I persisted.
After some persuasion, Mike said that he did know Vincent, but had no idea how to get in touch with him. After a bit more persistence on my part, Mike admitted that he did not know where Vincent lived, but did have his home number. He was very reluctant to give it to me since he still believed he was talking to a prank caller.
I told Mike to call my police station, have them verify who I was and the situation at hand, and then call me back with the number. He agreed and we hung up.
I quickly phoned my station and spoke with the desk officer, Blake, who was aware of the unfolding drama. I told Blake to give any information that Mike would be requesting in several seconds. He agreed, and did so when Mike called seconds later.
A minute or so went by and I did not receive a call back from Mike. Then the phone rang. He explained that he did call my station, verified my story, but then called information to verify that the number that I had given him for my station was in fact legit. He then gave me what he said was Vincent’s home number.
Dax and I then raced the three blocks to the 13th precinct on 21st near 2nd Avenue. I first met with desk officer Santiago and quickly told him the story and emphasized that every second mattered. He quickly put me in touch with Lt. Rocco, also at the main desk.
I began to explain the story to Lt. Rocco as he was relaying the information upstairs to his boss. We needed, I explained, to find out the address for the phone number I had for Vincent. Lt. Rocco explained that with the way the system works at his precinct, it might take a while if it was even possible at all to get it.
I also explained that we did not want to call the number since the possibility existed that his father might wake Vincent, who might then flee the home.
While Lt. Rocco was on the phone with his boss, I phoned Blake at my station. I gave Blake the number given to me by Mike and within seconds he was able to give me the name and address that the number was assigned to. At 2:40 a.m. Vincent’s home was finally located.
Lt. Rocco was familiar with the area of Vincent’s home and knew that the 68th precinct covers that area. He immediately contacted the precinct and advised them of what was happening. He also somehow knew exactly how to get to Vincent’s home from the 13th precinct and wrote down those directions for me.
The race was on. The officers of the 68th precinct began there response as Dax and I raced down the FDR, through the Brooklyn Battery tunnel and out the BQE towards Vincent’s home.
When I pulled up to Vincent’s home, there were already two marked units in front and a third pulling up to the scene. This third unit brought Sgt. Nucero and female officer Russo to the scene. I introduced myself to Nucero and together we walked towards Vincent’s front door. Nucero explained that he did not know the status inside, only that he had been summoned by the initially responding officers. Not good. Many thoughts raced through my mind as to what awaited us inside.
As I entered the home with Nucero, I walked into the living room where there were two other officers from the 68th precinct, Aponte and Mallory. I figured out that it was Vincent’s father and step-mother talking with the officers. Scanning the room I could see Vincent lying on the couch in hand-cuffs, sobbing. Oh what a feeling.
When Vincent saw me he was clearly distraught, in between sobs saying how upset he was that I had located him. How he wanted to die and he only called me because he knew he had not given me enough information to locate him and stop his attempt. He said how foolish he was going to look having sent out suicide notes to friends and then being unsuccessful. I told him I had a hunch they would forgive him.
As it turned out, Vincent had just gone to the mailbox and mailed his suicide notes to his friends, he had piled personal effects on his desk and notes explaining who should get what, and he also had a note to his father asking for his father not to blame Vincent for his own death. That he loved his father yet wanted to be found by him.
Also next to his bed were over 75 sleeping pills and a glass of water. He was in the process of cutting up the sleeping pills when the police arrived.
Vincent then kept on asking how the hell I found him, especially since he intentionally kept from me any information that would lead me to his location. Although I chose not to explain to him how I located him, and how he was saved, the thought did cross my mind that it probably had something to do with the facts that:
I stopped by the coffee house that night
The seat next to Vincent’s was not taken
He needed to call a friend from the hotel room
My cell phone looked expensive
He used the hotel phone, not my cell phone
A friend introduced me to Dax two years ago
I chose to leave the last bar at the exact time Dax was walking past, not ten seconds later.
Dax offered to stay with me
Dax shared Vincent’s view of my phone while I rambled on
The frying pan’s contact with my head – twice
The hotel receptionist was able to retrieve the number
At 2:30 a.m. my call to Vincent’s friend Mike was answered, not by voicemail
Mike had Vincent’s home number
Mike did not hang up on me
Blake was able to get Vincent’s home address
There’s always a way
Vincent was taken from his home in hand-cuffs, standard procedure in this type of situation, and transported by ambulance to Lennox Hill Hospital for observation.
He is now recovering in lower Manhattan at St. Vincent’s – no relation.