Wesley's astonishing bravery - saving a life in the face on an oncoming subway car - is an inspiration not just to New Yorkers, but the entire world. His courageous rescue of a complete stranger is a reminder of how we are surrounded by everyday heroes in New York City, and I am deeply honored to recognize one of them today.
It's so true - Gothamist loves the story because it's incredible on so many levels that everything worked out so well. The young man Autrey shielded from the oncoming train, Cameron Hollopeter, is safe. Autrey is safe. And Autrey has continued to emphasize how New Yorkers just need to help each other more often:
I'm not looking at this like I'm the hero, cause the real heroes are the young men and women that are fighting in Iraq now. What I did is something that any New Yorker should do, you know what I'm saying, if you see somebody in distress, do the right thing.
On the Late Show with David Letterman last night, Autrey pointed out that there were many people on the subway platform, but only three people - himself and two women - went to help Hollopeter during his first seizure on the platform.
New MTA executive director Elliott "Lee" Sander thanked him as well, saying, "By selflessly leaping to the aid of a fellow New Yorker and performing a type of heroic act nearly unrecallable to the memories of veteran transit workers, Wesley Autrey has captured the spirit of our city." Sander gave Autrey a year of free subway rides - 12 unlimited monthly Metrocards (which seems sort of cheap - the MTA could have sprung for free lifetime service) - plus a bunch of MTA swag for Autrey's young daughters.
The rest of the press conference at City Hall was a hoot - you can watch it here dial-up or broadband. A "Disney ambassador" thanked Autrey and gave him and his family a week-long all-expenses paid trip to Disney World, as well as tickets to see The Lion King on Broadway (he also handed out Mickey Mouse ears and Mickey and Minnie plushes to the girls).
While Autrey was answering questions about his good deed, the Mayor awkwardly interjected with a spiel about how Disney is like Autrey, doing good - we suppose Bloomberg felt he needed to credit Disney a lot. Autrey said he was overwhelmed by the attention and that the media was calling him non-stop. And someone asked if Autrey would run for Mayor, and Autrey said, "We've got the right man here" and hugged Mayor Bloomberg. So much love!
Then Autrey went to collect thanks and $10,000 from Donald Trump (who seriously needed to show good will after his lame spat) and appeared on Late Show with David Letterman (you can see part of the show here). Letterman was amazed and kept saying he wouldn't be able to do the same. Two interesting things Autrey mentioned: He only realized that the trough was deep enough because of the oncoming 1 train's lights (when it was far away, he didn't know if it would be deep enough) and that one of his daughters apparently wanted to follow him into the tracks (Autrey said she was a daddy's girl and "she loves me like that").
A professor of sociology at University of California Riverside, Toby Miller, said Mr. Autrey's rescue "taps into the ancient biblical" concept of helping those in need and is central to the ethos of American volunteerism. Mr. Miller and others said the move was especially impressive because people are often less inclined to help when others are nearby because there is no clear chain of command.We're sure everyone has been looking at the subway tracks and the troughs in them (some are really really shallow) and wondered if they would do the same...and wondered if they would want their loved one to risk it all. No one can say for sure, but in this instance, everything worked out better than anyone could have hoped.
An associate professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research, Emanuele Castano, said via e-mail that many people are more apt to step into a dangerous situation when there is "imminent danger of death."
We do hope real heroics continue (and hope that there won't be opportunists who do stupid things to attempt heroics). What we're taking away from this story is that it's an amazing reminder about what a little more consideration and kindness can do. We just don't have to do it on the big scale that Autrey did. Just "show each other some love" as Autrey says.
And the Bronze Medallion has been given to notables like General Douglas MacArthur, Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, and Willie Mays, but the city says "The last recipient of the medallion was Housing Authority employee Felix Vasquez, who caught a baby thrown from a burning building in 2005."
Top photograph of Wesley Autrey kissing his daughters as Mayor Bloomberg (with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta behind him) speak by Bebeto Matthews/AP; photograph of Mayor Bloomberg with Autrey, daughters Syshe and Shuqui from NYC.gov; subway graphic from USA Today