He chose Rochester, Mr. Mayor, because it was inadequately protected.
Not Rochester generally, but the Kodak Center specifically.
In the first hour of the new year, as a man sped his truck bomb toward the entrance of a building whose lobby was choked with hundreds of people, there was nothing between him and them.
Folks in the crosswalk, a mass of people on the sidewalk, and the packed lobby beyond, and nothing but glass and door framing between his truck and his victims.
That was probably OK in 1958, when the Kodak Center was built, but it’s been patently dangerous since 1995 when a terrorist blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City and 2001 when the terrorists taught us to expect them anywhere and anytime.
Evil is real. Its motive is ultimately irrelevant. But its relentless appetite for victims, the unquenchable desire to destroy and kill, is real. One of its sad manifestations is the lust for murder, mass murder, to kill many and buy thereby some fame or notoriety, to attach one’s name to the pantheon of those who kill just because.
That’s what the New Year’s attack looks like.
A shiftless nobody with a plan of carnage.
A big rented SUV loaded with more than a dozen cans and totes of gasoline, the first of it ignited as the engine roared and he gained speed, headed for the pedestrians and the door.
He chose Rochester, Mr. Mayor, because there was nothing between him and those pedestrians and that door.
No bollards, no barriers, no planters.
Rare among areas of mass congregation, the Ridge Road entrance to the Kodak Center seems to have no physical barriers to a vehicular attack.
We don’t live in a world anymore where that’s acceptable.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a primer that gives guidelines to help “mitigate terrorist attacks” against commercial buildings. It recommends the creation of a perimeter that it is impenetrable to most vehicular assaults, recommending as one option bollards that are between three and five feet apart – wide enough to accommodate the Americans with Disabilities Act but not wide enough to let a car or truck pass through. The New York State Department of Transportation recommends they be between 48 and 60 inches apart, and 18 inches back from the curb.
Across the Rochester region, and much of America, important buildings and places of public congregation have physical barriers to protect themselves against attacks exactly like the one attempted early Monday morning. The fact the Kodak Center doesn’t probably explains why it was targeted.
The lack of barriers isn’t negligent, but neither it is adequate. A shiftless nobody who wanted to kill as many people as possible recognized that, and tried to exploit it.
But what the property’s managers didn’t provide, fate did.
Fate or God or the random happenstance of life.
Because as a wannabe mass murderer was moments away from plowing his rolling inferno through a crowd and into a packed lobby, an Uber driver pulled onto Ridge Road.
Directly into the path of the burning truck.
Inadvertently, accidently, unknowingly.
It was the driver in the front and two young friends in the back. Justina Hughes and Josh Orr. Twenty-eight and twenty-nine. They loved the Grateful Dead, they loved music, they had just celebrated the beginning of a new year of life.
And they died instantly.
The physics of the thundering truck took their lives and deflected its path, sliding the now conjoined vehicles into a couple of cars and the crosswalk, but away from the doors and the lobby and the crowds on the sidewalk.
What was meant to be the mass incineration of dozens or hundreds of innocent people turned into a bonfire in the middle of the street.
Two young people were lost, a paramedic is on a ventilator, one pedestrian will never fully recover, but dozens or hundreds were saved.
By an Uber that got in the way.
By that narrow means was averted what could have been one of the largest mass murders in American history.
But it never should have come to that. Had there been a defensive barrier in place, this attack probably never would have been attempted.
That’s why Rochester, Mr. Mayor.
Because we weren’t prepared.