New York City celebrated a new hero on Wednesday: a 21-year-old Syrian who moved to the United States five years ago, speaks five languages and lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.
The man, Zach Tahhan, a security camera technician whose name has been spelled in varying ways on social media, said he was working on updating equipment at a shop near St. Marks Place and First Avenue in Manhattan’s East Village, when he saw Frank R. James through one of the security cameras.
In an impromptu news conference to a crowd of reporters and bystanders on Wednesday afternoon, Tahhan said: “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is the guy, we need to get him.’ He was walking down the street, I see the car of the police, I said, ‘Yo, this is the guy!’”
Tahhan said he ran out onto the street, following the suspect and warning those around him to keep their distance. “People think I am crazy, like maybe I am on drugs. But I’m not. I’m fasting,” he said, in reference to his observation of Ramadan.
The police have said they received a tip that James had been in a McDonald’s not quite two blocks away, and were searching for him in the area. Two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the investigation said it appeared that James had called the tip line himself.
The police have not yet confirmed whether Tahhan’s action led to James’ arrest.
But Tahhan’s upbeat demeanor and charismatic energy made him a sensation on social media. There is now a hashtag #ThankYouZack trending that people are using to share clips and videos of his news conference.
Others are also claiming a role in leading the police to James, which carries a $50,000 reward.
In an interview, Francisco Puebla, manager of Saifee, a hardware and garden store on First Avenue at Seventh Street, took a gentle dig at Tahhan, whom he had hired to help upgrade the store’s security camera system.
“He’s all over social media,” Puebla, 46, said, throwing his arms outward in a gesture apparently signifying bigness. “But I’m the one who took action.”
Puebla said he saw a burly man with a backpack walking slowly up First Avenue. He felt panic, he said, and feared calling the police because he didn’t want to be wrong. “I don’t want to put someone in trouble,” Puebla said.
But when a police car happened to stop for a the red light at the corner. Puebla said, he walked to it, waved and said, “Police officer, I might be wrong but the guy that did the shooting is right in the middle of the block.”
Moments later, several police cars converged on James just to the north.
A New York portrait painter, Lee Vasu, also said he alerted the police.
Vasu told the website Artnet that after having lunch at Cafe Mogador on St. Marks Place near First Avenue with his mother, wife and 8-month-old daughter, he spotted the suspect walking. Vasu said he went up to a police car that was parked on First Avenue to point out James’ location, and within seconds police cars started arriving from every direction.