NEW YORK — New York Police Sgt. Hameed Armani came to New York on a calling. After growing up in Afghanistan and seeing death all around him, Armani says, he wanted to save lives.
“I lost a lot of family, friends, loved ones in Afghanistan. A lot. I can’t count. Now I am in a position if God chose me to save someone’s life, even if it cost my life, I would not second guess,” Armani says.
Armani is a single father raising his 12-year-old daughter who was born in New York. He says the last few months have been tough for her with the police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, so she forces him to make a promise every day before he leaves for work.
“She gives me a big hug, and holds my hand and looks in my eyes and says ‘Dad, promise me you’ll come home.'”
It’s a promise the 10-year veteran officer almost couldn’t keep.
Armani and Officer Peter Cybulski were working a summer night in Times Square. Protecting the busy tourist spot during the evening hours is their normal beat.
Around 11:30 p.m. on July 21, the two men were sitting in their police van when a man drove by and tossed something into the passenger side window before speeding away.
The object hit Cybulski in the hand.
“(It hit) my right hand and then it hits the dashboard. I look over … I see a man giving me a really mean grin. I look back to see what it was. It was making a clicking sound. It was flashing a bright light that appeared to be flashing brighter and brighter and faster and faster,” Cybulski recalls.
Cybulski feared it was a bomb. He turned to his partner for guidance on what to do next.
The two men describe the next few seconds as “time standing still,” but Armani says he specifically remembers, in that moment, seeing a family in the Times Square crowd.
“A family with two little kids crossing the street and I made direct eye contact with that little kid. In my mind I accepted that I was going to die. But I wanted to get as far as possible because I didn’t want anybody else to die with us,” Armani says.
So they put the van in drive and sped away from the booming Times Square crowd, all while the device continued to blink. Cybulski recalls thinking they had anywhere from 10-15 seconds before it would detonate. During the drive they both said prayers out loud. Armani is Muslim; Cybulski is Catholic. Two men of different faiths prayed together.
“I looked up and said ‘God, I just don’t want to feel pain,'” Armani says, adding he remembered hearing Cybulski make the sign of the cross and recite the “Our Father.”
“You’re a police officer 24-7. It’s not a job, it’s who you are,” Cybulski says, “You can’t train to react to something like that. We could have easily just gotten out of the van and cleared the area and no one would have blamed us. It really does come from the heart when you know you’re going to take one, you know, you’re going to take this bomb and take it to a safe location and unfortunately you’re going to have to give your life to save thousands of people.”
That safe location was a block and a half from where the device was tossed into the van. They then jumped out of the vehicle and cleared the area, while the bomb squad came in to investigate.
The device turned out to be fake. It was a cylindrical object containing a candle, an electrical component and flashing red lights.
Police arrested 52-year-old Hector Meneses, the man suspected of throwing the device, after a long standoff with authorities. Meneses was charged with one count of placing a false bomb or hazardous substance in the first degree and two counts of falsely reporting an incident in the second degree. He has not yet entered a plea.
The officers were hailed as heroes in New York and across the country.
Better yet, Armani kept his promise to his young daughter.
“When I got back home, she was just waiting there for me. The minute I hugged her she goes, ‘Dad, don’t you dare do that again.’ I just gave her a kiss. I was speechless. I’m proud of what we’re doing. … It’s all about helping each other. That’s what I’m teaching my daughter,” Armani says.