NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Two NYPD cops are being called “heroes of New York City” for driving a suspicious device that had been tossed into their vehicle out of Times Square to a safer location before calling the bomb squad.
Sgt. Hameed Armani and Officer Peter Cybulski were sitting in a parked police van near 46th Street and Broadway around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday when police said a man in a sport utility vehicle threw a device into the van through an open window.
The device landed on the officers’ dashboard, lit up and was making a loud noise. That’s when Cybulski turned to Armani.
“He goes, ‘Boss, this is a bomb.’ The light went off, started clicking. I look around, saw a lot of kids, a lot of young people,” Armani said at a news briefing Thursday morning. “We both look at each other and I go, ‘We’re going to go, but I’m not going to have anyone else go with us.”’
“We knew what each other was thinking,” Cybulski said. “We weren’t going to let anything happen in Times Square.”
Cybulski cradled the device while Armani quickly drove to a less crowded area on Sixth Avenue.
“We’re not gonna let this take out someone else with us, multiple causalities,” Cybulski said. “So my partner and I, we turn on the siren, you know I held what we believed was the explosive device, and do what we had to do to get to a safe area.”
Once in a safer spot, they stopped the van, put the device on the ground and called the bomb squad.
“I was nervous. I was nervous,” Cybulski said.
“We both said our prayers,” Armani said. “We thought, ‘This is it, you know, we’re not gonna make it.’ But I’m happy I’m not gonna — no one is gonna get hurt.”
Police later determined the device was a hoax made out of a battery-powered lantern, a wax candle wrapped in tin foil and a white cloth.
“No one got hurt, I was happy,” Armani said. “It’s a good day.”
After they learned the device was a fake, both officers said they wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“I was thinking if I had to do it all over again, I would do it all over again,” Armani said.
“I would do the same thing,” Cybulski said.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton praised them Thursday for their bravery, quick action and what he said was “great risk to what they thought was their own lives.”
“They put their own lives at risk so that they could save potentially hundreds if not thousands of people in Times Square,” he said.
Bratton called them “the best of the Finest.”
“I cannot emphasize how proud I am of them,” he said.
Bratton gave both officers so-called “challenge coins” as a token of his personal esteem, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.
Meanwhile, CBS2’s Christine Sloan talked with Cybulski’s parents about their son’s heroic actions Thursday.
“He’s always been our hero, but to hear someone else saying that, it’s just overwhelming,” said Officer Cybulski’s mother, June Cybulski.
“It just makes you feel good that he was able to help someone else and that nothing went off,” said the officer’s father, Peter Cybulski Sr.
The Cybulskis said they are like any other parents when it comes to their 24-year-old son, who has only been on the force three years after having gone through the NYPD cadet program at St. John’s University.
“Worried, definitely worried about him,” June Cybulski said. “Like I say, they put the blue uniform on and you never know every day if they’re going to come, and he’s our baby.”
Cybulski is a graduate of Riverhead High School on Long Island.
June and Peter Cybulski Sr. knew something was wrong after checking in with their son like they always do.
“He sent me a text saying, ‘Everything’s OK,’ but how did he word it? Like and unusual night,” she said.
After the harrowing experience, the Cybulskis said the entire family is going on vacation together. The officer’s parents asked everyone to pray for all police officers who risk their lives every day.
And Sgt. Armani is an immigrant from Afghanistan where, of course, explosive devices are all too common.
“Sergeant Armani is now a 10-year-veteran of the department, joining us in 2006. He’s an immigrant – Afghanistan; practices the Muslim faith. He immigrated here with his young infant daughter for better life,” Bratton said. “We are extraordinarily proud that he has decided to join the NYPD a number of years ago.”
The suspect who was believed to have tossed the object into their van was eventually pulled over in Columbus Circle early Thursday morning.
The man, identified as 52-year-old Hector Meneses, was taken into custody after an hours-long standoff with police. Charges against him are pending.