Finding bombs may be the best thing that ever happened to Elizabeth men
ELIZABETH — A homeless man and his friend who discovered a backpack full of bombs in that led to the arrest of suspected terrorist Ahmad Khan Rahami are being called heroes as three groups try to help them get a fresh start on life and honor their efforts.
Donald Goncalves of the organization At Heart's Length created a GoFundMe page to assist Lee Parker and Ivan White, the men who discovered the backpack filled with explosives outside an Elizabeth bar on Sunday night. One of those explosives detonated while bomb techs tried to disarm it with a robot, but no one was hurt. The others were taken by authorities for study.
"Had it not been for these heroes, Elizabeth would have experienced a devastating terrorist attack. We owe them a debt of gratitude," Goncalves said.
White told New Jersey 101.5 Parker, his friend of the past 7 years, had a job interview the next day and needed a backpack. On their way home from a store, "We walk past a garbage can. What do we see? A brand new looking backpack. Wow!"
He suggested at the time once he checked it over Parker's backpack problem would be solved.
White said Parker waved him over as he came out of the store and wanted him to look at what was inside. White said he saw a pipe bomb and a box the size of a paperback book with a tag that read "C-5" attached.
"We're walking down the street with this thing and I said 'We need to put this thing down and go to the police station. This is a bomb, man. This is a bomb!" White said.
White said they returned to his home, but police came back for them as the FBI and the Attorney General's Office wanted to talk to them.
"And then the bomb detonated. Boom!" White said.
Dr. Norma Bowe, director of the Kean University group Be The Change, was watching coverage of the removal of the bombs from near the midtown Elizabeth train station late into the night on Sunday and was concerned because many Kean students use that station.
When she head about the two men who reported the bombs to police, "I was determined to find out their names. I don’t think it’s enough for the media to say ‘two homeless men’ and not put a face on them. What they did is nothing short of being a super hero."
"He literally moved that bomb, was there all night with the police and then slept in an abandoned building. We can do better than that," Bowe said.
Bowe's group, which has been twice been recognized by the Clinton Foundation for its projects, made arrangements with the Elizabeth Coalition to House The Homeless to house Parker at The Efficiency Inn until Parker could be situated in a permanent home. Bowe took Parker to social services and food shopping on Wednesday
Goncalves is working with the group At Heart's Length to help both Parker and White and the Elizabeth Coalition to House The Homeless to find Parker, who is homeless, a permanent place to live. White is on a fixed income and lives in senior housing. Bowe said that White is a U.S. Navy vet.
“Social services agencies in Elizabeth area going to have to pay special close attention to him. We have that obligation to him now because he helped so saved so many lives. We have to save his now. So we gotta get this guy back on his feet, get him functional, get a job, understand what the norms of society are," Goncalves said.
"Most people have been showing so much gratitude," Bowe said, "When we took Lee out to dinner at a Portuguese steakhouse restaurant they got a standing ovation."
Goncalves said White and Parker live from day-to-day and hopefully this will change the direction of their lives, and they will "not have to go through garbage cans to live. That's what a hero deserves."
White doesn't take the "hero" title too seriously. "I don't call myself that. That's what other people say. That's nice, I guess," White.
White, who served in the Navy, said Rahami "wasn't a very good terrorist," noting Rahami was caught in two days.
"He is going to prison for the rest of his life and every time another inmate finds out who is they will slap the snot out of him," White said. "Law enforcement here is second to none in the world."
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com