ELIZABETH, NJ – Union County Freeholder Board honored the men who found pipe bomb, the bar owner who reported the suspect, Linden Police officers who made the apprehension, and various law enforcement agencies at their regular meeting that took place before a packed audience in the Union County Administration Building tonight.
“Before last week, I don’t think we ever thought this would happen in our own community,” remarked Linden Mayor Derek Armstead. “It changed how we do business forever. Lives were saved. There was great police work, a little bit of luck, and help from God. Everyone involved with the police and firefighters are heroes.”
In presenting a proclamation to Linden Officer Angel Padilla, who survived being shot by the bullet-proof vest he was wearing, Freeholder Chair Bruce Bergen said, “It is hard not to think that things might have turned out differently. Twenty-five years that outcome might have been different because officers didn’t wear vests.
"Officer Padilla is a wonderful hero.”
Officer Peter Hammer, who was also injured in the pursuit of the suspect, couldn’t be at the ceremony.
After group after group of police officers were recognized, Linden Det. Capt. William Turbett remarked, “You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your trade.” After describing the training and dedication of the Linden force, he concluded, “When the time came, they all stepped up to the plate.”
In addition to the police officers, civilians Harinder Bains, who reported the suspect sleeping in the doorway of the bar he owned, and Elizabeth residents Lee Parker and Ivan White who found the bombs outside a Board Street restaurant, were also recognized.
That Sunday night, September 18, Parker picked up a discarded backpack needed for a job interview he was going on the next day. Then, he looked inside. “I thought it was candles at first because it was dark and I couldn’t see,” he remembered. “Then I saw the wires. Candles don’t have wires, so they must be bombs.”
He showed it to his friend Ivan White who said, “We need to call the police because these are bombs.”
Neither man confessed to being nervous carrying their explosive package. “We just wanted to deposit them in a safe place so no one gets hurt,” said White.
Tonight was the second time the pair was recognized this week. Elizabeth City Council honored them at Tuesday's City Council meeting. “The actions of Mr. Parker and Mr. White were courageous, inspirational and saved lives,” said Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage. “When they found a backpack with questionable contents, they did not ignore it or dismiss it as nothing, they chose to report it, placing the safety of our community and the region first. Their brave and civic-minded acts are commendable and are an example of the difference that can be made when awareness is raised and information shared.”
Parker and White have also disproved that old saying that nice guys finish last. When word got out that Parker was homeless and out of work, the community responded. The Coalition to House the Homeless and Be the Change NJ, a group of students from Kean University, worked to find Parker housing. Don Goncalves of At Heart’s Length began a GoFundMe that will distribute funds to Parker, White, who is on a fixed income, and the Coalition in equal shares. As of September 29, more than $32,000 has been raised.
And the best news of all? Parker will be starting a new job next week.
Asked how it feels to be a hero, Parker didn’t hesitate. “It feels good to be so honored. In fact, it feels great.”