We Talked to the Professor Who Saved Someone’s Life Last Week

Natasha Roy, Deputy News Editor

French professor Jessamine Irwin was on the subway heading to NYU for her evening class last Wednesday when she saw a young boy being attacked between subway cars, as detailed by the New York Times. Instead of ignoring the problem like everyone else on the train, she whisked him into her subway car and helped him get to safety. WSN caught up with Irwin to talk to her about the experience.

WSN: What were you doing before the incident took place?

Jessamine Irwin: I was on my way to teach at Fordham in the Bronx, and I just remember it was kind of a crazy day, because for some reason, I left my cell phone at home that day and that’s not something I would normally do. I gave myself over an hour to get to campus, but there was a big problem with the trains, and I ended up being late.

WSN: When did you first see someone attacking the boy you rescued?

JI: I got on the train — the 4 express train coming towards Brooklyn — and then at 59th, there was just a big slam against the door to my left, which was the door that goes between the train cars. I turned and just saw that there were two people on the platform, but I couldn’t tell if — I could just tell that one was bigger than the other one — and the slam was that the bigger one had picked up the smaller person and slammed him against the back of the door.

WSN: So how did you react?

JI: I just stood up so I could see more clearly, and I saw that he actually hadn’t thrown him. He was just shaking him over the guardrail. No one would really look in my direction or anything. I just, I couldn’t — I think, in opening the door, I wasn’t really reflecting on all the possibilities of what could have happened, because there was just no time. All I could tell myself was that I didn’t want to wait for him to actually throw the kid, since I had already kind of felt that feeling of shock, as if he had thrown the person, so I just wanted to give him a way out.

I just opened the door but waited though, because I saw the guy turn and go to the other side of the train and shake the victim again over that side. And then as he turned around again — when the victim was in between the man and the door — that’s when I opened it, because I knew I could grab him.

WSN: What did you do once you had the boy safely in the subway car?

JI: I closed the door, and I had him sit down in the seat I was sitting in, and I asked him some questions to try and make sure he was okay. The craziest thing was he — after being shaken around like that — he still actually had his cell phone in his hand. Which, I was like, that’s amazing. I don’t know. I mean, because imagine how painful that would be: for someone to pick you up by your arms like that and shake you around. I just asked him his name, his age and I honestly wasn’t thinking particularly clearly, so I don’t know why my first thought wasn’t to call the police, but it wasn’t. It was to find out where his parents were and how far he was going on the train.

WSN: Did you stay with him until his parents came? How long were you with him?

JI: His dad came. I stayed with him probably an hour or so at the police station — I had to file a witness report and everything as well. Basically waited until he said that his dad was there, and then I went back, because I was actually on my way to teach a class here, but I ended up cancelling class that evening because I was late.

WSN: Are you still in touch with the boy?

JI: Yeah. His father got my phone number somehow. He called, and I talked to him on the phone for the first time Saturday. I think we’re actually going to meet up this week, because I honestly would like to see [the kid] again and just tell him that I’m thinking about him, that everything’s going to be cool and he’s going to keep being a good kid and go to school and everything will be fine, you know? Because it’s a very traumatic experience for a kid.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Email Natasha Roy at [email protected]