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The Boy on the Bus: A 16-Year-Old Recounts a Terror Attack

The New York Times logo The New York Times 4 days ago By JAN RANSOM
a group of people riding on the back of a car: The bus that the motorist hit had four people on it: Noah, a female student, the matron and the bus driver. The three of them were injured. Noah was unscathed, at least physically. © Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press The bus that the motorist hit had four people on it: Noah, a female student, the matron and the bus driver. The three of them were injured. Noah was unscathed, at least physically. a little boy sitting on a chair: Noah Salz, right, and his brother, Jake, with their beagle, Peanut, in their Brooklyn apartment on Friday, 10 days after a motorist drove a truck down a bike path and crashed into Noah’s bus, killing eight. © Hilary Swift for The New York Times Noah Salz, right, and his brother, Jake, with their beagle, Peanut, in their Brooklyn apartment on Friday, 10 days after a motorist drove a truck down a bike path and crashed into Noah’s bus, killing eight.

Noah Salz sat there seemingly stunned with his headphones around his neck, the matron on his small yellow school bus across his lap, bleeding. The side of the bus had completely caved in. He could hear the sound of gunfire nearby, the cries for help from his bus driver, and frantic pleas from a passer-by that someone call 911.

Not far away, along the Hudson River bike path, a pickup truck had left a roughly mile-long stretch of carnage — mangled bodies and bicycles. Then it had slammed into his school bus. It was 3 p.m. on Halloween. In all, eight people were killed with others injured in that afternoon’s terrorist attack, but one of the most ineradicable images in those first frantic moments was that of the crushed school bus — the bus that had stopped a driver bent on sowing death and pain. Who was inside and what happened to them?

It was Noah, along with a female student, the matron and the bus driver. The three of them were injured. Noah was unscathed, at least physically, but for a 16-year-old with Down syndrome, there were moments of terror and confusion.

“He was in the middle of a terrorist attack,” Noah’s mother, Kim Salz, said in their home in Brooklyn. “He’s completely fine. Mentally, I don’t know.”

Noah returned to school the next day, and resumed taking the bus that shuttles him to his high school in the East Village twice a week. Mrs. Salz said she follows Noah’s lead and discusses the attack only when he brings it up. “We’re slowly adjusting and figuring it out,” she said. “I’m thankful he was sheltered from the worst of it.”

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Although Noah heard the gunfire, he did not see when a police officer shot Sayfullo Saipov, 29, the driver charged in the attack. He also did not see the dead and injured along the bike path.

Noah sat at his family’s dining room table Friday night, his beagle, Peanut, in a chair beside him.

“I got scared,” he said. “I had glass on me. I was crying. I’m pretty scared when bad things happen.”

He remembers the gunshots, and the purple gloves that emergency medical technicians wore as they checked him and asked him questions: “Where are you from?” “What’s your date of birth?”

Noah called his mother and asked her to pick him up, but he was not sure where he was. Brooklyn maybe, he told her.

Mrs. Salz said Noah typically called to let her know that he had boarded the bus, but that day his voice was shaky, and she immediately knew something was wrong. An emergency medical worker explained that the bus had been involved in an accident and that he was unharmed, but that he had to be transported to the hospital as a precaution. Panicked, he resisted.

“No, no. I don’t want to do it,” Noah cried, his mother said.

Mrs. Salz reassured Noah on the phone that he was fine and that he needed to follow instructions from the emergency workers. She told him that his father, David Salz, who works downtown, would meet him at the hospital. Noah said his bus driver also helped to keep him calm. He said the driver held him as emergency workers pushed the two on a stretcher to an ambulance.

Mrs. Salz had no idea that her son had been involved in much more than a routine accident. After learning that the area was placed on lockdown because of a “police situation,” she said she searched online for news updates and saw initial reports about the crash, and later of road rage and gunfire. She still did not yet know that her son had survived a terrorist attack.

“I’m concerned like, ‘Oh my God,’ but my son is O.K.,” she said. “I didn’t know anything other than that.”

Mr. Salz met his son at the hospital, and Mrs. Salz went out trick-or-treating in the Park Slope neighborhood with their daughter, Talia, 9, and younger son, Jake, 14. Noah was supposed to be there with them dressed as a witch doctor. It was when she was out that Mrs. Salz learned the harrowing details of what had happened.

“I was disappointed because I had to stay in Lower Manhattan,” Noah said about missing out on Halloween festivities with his siblings.

On their way back from trick-or-treating, Mrs. Salz, Talia and Jake boarded a train at Seventh Avenue and happened to get in the same car that Noah and Mr. Salz were in. Noah’s mother and siblings rushed over to greet him. Talia hugged her brother and asked him if he was O.K. She even shared some of her Halloween candy with him, an unusual move, Mrs. Salz said.

After the attack, Talia slept in her parents’ bed and told them she did not feel comfortable taking the bus to school. Her father drove her to school for three days. Jake has not talked much about what happened. Mrs. Salz said Noah had not cried, but he did tell her that “the matron fell on him, was crying for help and her face scared him.”

Last week, Talia rode the school bus and slept in her room for the first time since the attack. Noah quickly returned to his routine. Missing school, he said, was not an option. On Friday night, before he retreated to his room to complete his homework, Noah said, “This week I’m happy.”

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