by Laura Beers
Mountaintop, Pennsylvania, USA
In 1983 I was a high school student in Queens, New York. I was also a model and traveled to Manhattan occasionally. I almost always traveled alone.
When I first started going to Manhattan, I would use only buses. Eventually, I began using the subway — it was faster and less crowded. I became comfortable using New York’s Mass Transit system. Too comfortable.
My confidence grew to the point where I would take the subway at night. One evening at about 10:00 I was in Manhattan waiting for the train. I was standing far down the platform, away from the sales booth, when I was approached by a man in his late thirties who asked me the time. Not realizing that a large clock was right on the platform, I slid my sleeve back to look at my watch. The next thing I knew he was holding a knife to my throat.
As my train came, he made it look like we were hugging. I was paralyzed with fear. The train left and he dragged me down the platform, toward the tracks. I realized that this was not going to be just a robbery. I struggled and, because I was wearing winter gloves, was able to grab the knife. I threw it onto the tracks and screamed. He punched me in the mouth.
As we struggled, he took out a smaller knife. I kicked him in the groin and ran toward the sales booth. He grabbed my coat, but was unable to get a firm hold. I’ll never forget screaming at the people waiting for their trains on the other side of the tracks. No one tried to help, but someone did call the police. They arrived quickly and determined that the mugger had escaped by running down the tracks to an emergency exit.
I was too shaken up to file a police report. I just wanted to go home, so the police waited with me for the next train. When it arrived, there was a squad of Guardian Angels aboard. The Guardian Angels formed in 1978 as a response to escalating subway crime. They are men and women who volunteer their time and efforts to prevent crime. They are unarmed, but skilled in self-defense. They work with the Transit Police but were long maligned by the local news media, who portrayed them as vigilantes with questionable backgrounds. I had always been a little wary when I saw them on trains.
The police told the Guardian Angels of my predicament. Two of them sat with me and calmed me down. They got off with me, escorted me to my next train, and stayed with me until I got home. I felt safe and protected.
New York is often thought of as cold and impersonal, but the Guardian Angels showed me that people do care and I gained a newfound respect for them. I will never forget their kindness. They went above and beyond the call of duty for me.