‘I have a bomb & I want to die’: Hoax NYC bomber arrested after 6-hour standoff

Police investigate the scene near an  SUV in which a man suspected of causing a bomb scare barricaded himself, causing an hours-long standoff and the shutdown of a mid-Manhattan area in New York City, New York, U.S. July 21, 2016 © Brendan McDermid
A 52-year-old taxi driver has been taken into custody after lobbing a fake explosive into Times Square, before threatening to blow himself up in an all-night car siege that brought central New York to a standstill.

"I have a bomb strapped to me and I want to die," shouted Hector Meneses, as he was surrounded by SWAT teams, police negotiators, and bomb squads in Columbus Circle, one of NYC’s signature spots.

Roads for hundreds of yards around the area were cordoned off, causing bewilderment and fear among early-rising New Yorkers.

It turned out to be an empty threat, and police apprehended the “disturbed” Meneses around 8am on Thursday morning, loading him onto a stretcher before sending him to hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. All that was found in his silver-colored SUV were 19 LED lights and wires, which officers claimed were apparently bought to build an imitation pressure cooker bomb, which was never completed.

Meneses, who received his cab license in April, has no criminal or mental health record. Police said his neighbors described him as a generally “quiet” man, but prone to becoming “irate” after airing grievances to those he barely knew.

Times Square ‘heroes’ 

The sequence of events – by turns farcical and terrifying – began just before midnight on Wednesday.

Sgt. Hameed Armani and Officer Peter Cybulski were doing their routine shift at Times Square when a strange cylindrical device was thrown from a passing vehicle, straight through a window, and onto their dashboard.

As the object began “clicking and flashing” the two immediately thought it was an explosive.

"I looked around and saw kids and young people. I said, 'We're gonna go, but I'm not gonna have anyone go with us,’" recounted Armani.

Instead of instinctively jumping out of the van, the policeman slammed down the gas pedal and sped away from Times Square, onto a quiet street, before placing the device onto the sidewalk, and calling an explosives team.

By 1:10am deminers said the device was harmless – an amateur contraption made of a battery, a candle, an LED light, and some tinfoil.

"No one got hurt, I was happy," said Armani during a later media briefing. "It was a good day."

On Thursday morning, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton called the men heroes.

"Their performance last night was exemplary both in terms of their professionalism and their bravery. They put their own lives at risk so that they could save potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Times Square," he told reporters.

Final showdown 

But the hoax bomber was still at large.

Police put out a description of the SUV from which the device was tossed, and by 2am he was tracked down to Columbus Square.

“Upon stopping the SUV, a male driver was observed placing a red plastic helmet on his head,” said NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill, describing the moment Meneses was found. “The male did not communicate with the officers, who then called for backup.”

According to police, Meneses held a remote control in his hand as officers approached “as if simulating, ‘I’m going to press this and I’m going to detonate this device if you come closer.'”

Negotiations were at an impasse until police sent a robot equipped with a camera to study who and what was inside the SUV.

Police investigate the SUV in which a man suspected of causing a bomb scare barricaded himself, causing an hours-long standoff and the shutdown of a mid-Manhattan area in New York City, New York, U.S. July 21, 2016. © Brendan McDermid

Once it looked inside, the bomb squad realized that the Colombia-born Meneses had nothing “that comes anything close to an improvised explosive device.”

He was overpowered a short time later, with no resistance. His detonator turned out to be “an electric fireplace remote controller.”