First Person: I Helped Put A Wanted Man Behind Bars

Last Thursday, Frisky staffers noticed the sound of a police helicopter hovering above midtown Manhattan for what felt like at least an hour. We had no idea what they helicopter was looking for – until later that evening, when New York news reported on the manhunt for Nicolas Almonte, a Queens man who had walked off his job Thursday morning, carjacked three different people at gunpoint, robbed another man and attempted to rob two others at gun point. After crashing his third carjacked vehicle — a gold Mercedes —Almonte broke into the basement of 27-year-old Brooklyn resident Sybil Jason’s apartment building. Sybil just-so-happens to also be a friend of mine.

What follows is Sybil’s first-hand account of what happened next:

I had been at my mom’s house in New Jersey the night before and I came back to the apartment around 2:30 pm. I left to run errands and returned at around 5:30. I’m going to school at CUNY and had class at 6 p.m. — and my professor is a stickler for being on time, so I only had a few minutes to put down my groceries before running out the door again. I ran in, locked the front door of the apartment building, and noticed that there was a washcloth on the floor next to the door to the basement, covering something, I assumed it was something the landlord left behind (I later found out it was a gun). I opened the door to the apartment and then quickly closed it. I said “hi” to the cat that I’m cat-sitting and then I heard someone reply “hello.” I called out, thinking it was my roommate Austin. But it wasn’t Austin. Instead, the voice responded “It’s Nicolas.” I quickly put my hand on the door and locked it.

In my head, I kept thinking, “I need to get to class.” He was right on the other side of the door, and kept saying, “I need your help, I need your help, I think God brought me to you. “ I said I couldn’t help him and that I need to leave. I told him to please go away, to which he replied, “You know the Bible says to help your neighbors.” And then he told me “I’ve been here all along.”

I crept away from the door, and called the police and said “Please help me, there’s a strange man behind the my door and someone needs to come right now.” I called my friend Beverly and kept her on the phone while I waited for the cops. And that’s when I he began asking for bread. “Please help me, I just want some bread,” he pleaded over and over again.  I was terrified he was going to break the door down because it was an old wooden door, and pretty flimsy.

At this point, I knew he was a mentally disturbed man. After about 10 minutes the cops showed up, but wouldn’t let me open the door. They made me pass the keys to them out the front window. There were dozens of police in front of my building, and I saw one of the cops hand over a mug shot print out. That’s when I realized it was really serious. When I was finally let out of the house, one of the cops came over and told me, “Thank you, you ended a city-wide manhunt. You did the right thing by not opening the door and by calling the police” They charged him with robbery, attempted robbery and unlawful imprisonment.

It took me a while to process what had just happened. He’d gotten into the building via an unlocked basement door — and had probably targeted our building because there was no gate out front. He is obviously mentally disturbed, and from what I understand, he’s currently under psychiatric evaluation.

What would I tell other people in a similar situation? Well, obviously, do not open the door. I think a lot of people might, not even thinking twice, but in my head I thought, I’m a female, he’s a male. I knew it wasn’t safe. And my mom didn’t raise me to be a fool. He was very polite. He wasn’t yelling. He sounded very distraught, but I was not taking a risk. You don’t get into a stranger’s car, and you don’t open the door to someone you don’t know. When he said “I’ve been here all along,” well, it’s scary to think that he had broken into a house full of women.

I didn’t go to sleep last night. It’s traumatic and very scary to know that you’re in danger. I’m very empathetic to people that are mentally ill – I overheard him tell the cops that he was bipolar — and I just knew that something was off. Knowing that he had a gun, it’s hard not to think about what could have been. It’s a weird thing but maybe I was put there for a reason. It could have been a whole lot worse.

Contact the author of this post at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @havethehabit.