NEW YORK (AP) — New York City police officer Ryan Nash was responding to a call about an emotionally disturbed person at a high school not far from the World Trade Center when someone reported an accident on the bike path outside.
Nash and his partner, John Hasiotis, raced to a gruesome sight: A man in a truck had slammed into a school bus after mowing down people in a bike lane. He was waving guns around and yelling. Nash, 28, told him to drop the weapons and then fired, striking the man once.
Nash stopped the attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, in his tracks, but the officer is too modest to admit he's a hero, officials said.
"He was a hero," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. "And the NYPD is not just the leadership, it's the men and women who are out there every day who are on the first line, and I think officer Nash really showed how important they are and how talented and how brave."
Saipov was actually wielding a pellet gun and a paintball gun, authorities said, but they looked like real guns. Witnesses reported the 29-year-old hollered "Allahu akbar," or "God is great!" in Arabic.
Hasiotis and two other officers, Michael Welsome and Kevin McGinn, secured the area, took witness statements and grabbed the guns. And they showed restraint by not firing their weapons into the crowded area, police said.
"While we mourn the terrible loss of life and the injuries to innocent people, we are proud of, and grateful for, the quick action of a team of police officers who responded to cries for help and took charge of a chaotic and dangerous situation," said police union president Patrick Lynch.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and other civic leaders commended Nash for his cool head — and said he was a humble officer who felt like he was just doing his job.
"What he did was extraordinary. It gave people such faith and such appreciation in our police force," de Blasio said.
Nash was taken to the hospital for a ringing in the ears and met with Police Commissioner James O'Neill.
"In a typical fashion of an NYPD cop, he thinks what he did was not an act of heroism," O'Neill said. "He thinks it's ... why he joined the police department."
Nash appeared outside a police stationhouse in suburban Long Island a few miles from his home Wednesday and said he appreciates the praise but he was just doing his job.
"I appreciate the public recognition of the actions of myself and my fellow officers yesterday, although I feel we were just doing our job like thousands of officers do every day," he said.
Nash added that "due to the nature of the pending criminal case I cannot make any further public statements about the incident at this time."
No one answered the door earlier Wednesday at Nash's two-story yellow Cape Cod-style home. Neighbors said he moved in sometime in the past year and largely kept to himself, though he often jogged outside.
"What he did was amazing, you know, helping to keep anybody else from being killed," said neighbor Dino Cortina. "It's just nice to know, nice guy."
Cortina's wife, Margie, said Nash kept to himself but was friendly.
"We feel safer now knowing that there's a hero, you know, in our neighborhood."
In Tuesday's attack, Saipov drove his speeding truck for nearly a mile along the bike path, running down cyclists and pedestrians, then crashed into a school bus, authorities said. Eight people were killed and 12 injured.
O'Neill praised the police response to the attack in a departmentwide email. He said the goal of terrorists is to promote hate and divisiveness.
"But what we've seen here, instead, is that these acts simply strengthen the resolve of New Yorkers and, in fact, all Americans," O'Neill said.
This story has been corrected to show that Nash fired, striking the man once, not that Nash fired only once.
This story has been corrected to show the governor of New York's first name is Andrew, not Andre.