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Alum Helps Foil Times Square Bomber

Bad feeling leads to congrats from Obama


When he saw a car idling in the bus lane, Times Square street vendor Duane Jackson (above) knew "something wasn't right."

A seasoned Manhattan street vendor who was blocks away from the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Duane Jackson had a bad feeling Saturday evening when he noticed a driverless Nissan Pathfinder idling at a busy bus stop in front of the Times Square Marriott Marquis hotel. Jackson (MET’76) left his handbag stand on 45th and Broadway to see if what walked like a duck and quacked like a duck was really a duck. It was. One day and several TV appearances later he was on the phone with President Obama, who offered effusive thanks for Jackson’s role in foiling a potentially lethal bomb attack.

“I’m constantly looking at the street and traffic, so when I turned around and saw the car I immediately walked to it,” says Jackson, who earned his BU degree in urban planning and is a cofounder, with other BU alumni, of the Golden Decade Foundation, which mentors and provides scholarships and internships for college students from minority communities. “The keys were in the ignition and I saw the car was running so I looked inside.”

At that moment, he says, two mounted police officers rounded the corner of 45th and asked if the car was his. “When I said no,” Jackson says, “we all looked inside and then the smoke starting coming out.”

Anticipating that the car was about to go up in flames, Jackson, a disabled Vietnam veteran, next did what any sensible New Yorker would do — he moved his car out of the way. And that’s when a sound like firecrackers sent pedestrians, many of them on their way to Broadway shows a half hour before curtain time, running in all directions.

Within minutes, a fleet of police, firefighters, and bomb squad experts arrived, and the area was cleared for several blocks. Jackson, who started his handbag business 21 years ago after an eclectic career in advertising, was unable to pack up his merchandise and drive home to Westchester, where he lives with his wife and teenage son, until 4 a.m. Sunday.

Sleepless and exhausted, he, along with his wife, son, and 27-year-old daughter, was whisked back to Manhattan in a town car for an appearance alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Good Morning America.

“They put us up at the Millennium Hotel,” says Jackson. “My wife is a big fan of Robin Roberts.”

After that it was Fox and Friends, the Fox evening news, and Inside Edition, with a string of interviews with print and radio reporters wedged in between.

Jackson says that while the family was being ferried to the Inside Edition interview, things got a bit strange. A pair of plainclothes police intercepted the car to bring Jackson to the precinct to look at some photos to see if he could identify the driver of the Pathfinder. “I told them, okay, fine, but I didn’t get a look at the guy,” Jackson says. As they drove up to a nondescript building in an unmarked cruiser, “it just didn’t feel right,” he says. He found out the real reason he was there after he was inside and shaking hands with an FBI field director.

Jackson was then led to a conference room with a secure landline — and the president on the other end.

“We talked for two or three minutes,” he says. “He thanked me, told me he was proud of me and my diligence and attention to detail, which helped avert a great disaster.” Then Obama asked, “What do you sell out there?” Jackson told him handbags — and golf clubs, which is odd but true. After the conversation, Jackson says, he was kicking himself for not suggesting that he and the president play some golf the next time they both happen to be on Martha’s Vineyard.

Jackson is one of two street vendors being lauded for warning authorities about the suspicious Pathfinder. T-shirt vendor Lance Orton, 57, also a disabled Vietnam veteran, received a call from the President Sunday thanking him for his help in alerting police.

Late Monday night, authorities arrested Faisal Shahzad, 30, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, moments before he was about to board a plane to Dubai. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that Shahzad has provided useful information to investigators. On Tuesday, security officials in Pakistan reported that they have arrested seven or eight people in connection with the bombing attempt.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.


23 Comments on Alum Helps Foil Times Square Bomber

  • Optimistic Student on 05.05.2010 at 8:11 am

    It’s good to see that with our BU degrees we can strive to become street vendors

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 9:16 am

    Misleading Headline

    How did he help “foil” a bombing attempt?
    From this article, Mr. Jackson and two officers were standing near and looking in the windows of a vehicle when ‘smoke started coming out”. It could just as easily have blown up those three men, two horses and presumably a few passerbys.
    It’s nice that he was a concerned citizen and tried to help, I am glad he isn’t dead, but there is no reason to conclude his testimony or actions helped “foil” a bombing attempt.

  • Suffolk Student. on 05.05.2010 at 10:14 am

    Valiant Effort

    “It’s good to see that with our BU degrees we can strive to become street vendors”

    You sir – are a douche bag. It’s amazing to see how pretentious BU students are nowadays. To downplay a fellow alums hard work. For shame BU, you students need to learn some manners.

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 10:44 am

    isn't a "handbag business" illegal?

    I thought this type of “handbag business” was also called “selling counterfeit goods” and is a crime.

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 11:03 am

    Journalistic genius!

    I can see the editorial board of BU Today bursting with happiness: “Wow! Look guys, the man who “foiled” the attack is a BU graduate!! We have to tell our students, so they will be proud of their university!!”. Unfortunately, you are also probably pushing into despair and depression thousands of current students and families who are paying dozens of thousands of dollars for their education, given that Mr. Jackson is a street vendor now. I find it a sad story, not to rejoice about. Besides, does BU Today think that this is a good publicity for the university? Simply hilarious…

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 11:09 am

    @valient effort, you are a doorknob

  • MET student on 05.05.2010 at 11:22 am

    Nice Job Man...

    Yeah ok, so the guy didn’t exactly “foil” anything, but the fact remains that probably tens of people, maybe hundreds, walked by that same suspicious vehicle sitting there and presumably ignored it as “not my problem”… these two guys were apparently the exception, and little actions by observant people can add up to a big difference.

    Who knows if those mounted cops would have even stopped if they hadn’t see Mr Jackson standing nearby? — Perhaps instead they might have just radioed for a tow truck and not given it a second thought, but by seeing him standing there they decided to go in closer and see if he was the owner? If they had gone passed it might have added a few minutes before the bomb squad got there and handled it… even if it wasn’t setup properly to be a big explosion, but instead a big fireball which is what many are saying, that still might have saved a few people from being killed or seriously injured for the rest of their lives.

    There’s no way to know when something small has averted something much larger… imagine if someone had noticed something a little suspicious before those flights took off for the WTC, a lot might have been averted.

    I also think it’s cool that President Obama thanked them, it seems trivial, but it’s just one little thing that someone like him does that makes me feel good… he knows they didn’t do anything major, but they did SOMETHING.

  • PK on 05.05.2010 at 11:26 am

    re: preceding comments —

    1) Any BU grad should be proud of this guy. Seeing the smoke and suspecting the worst, he didn’t flee; he moved towards the car to investigate, thinking of others before himself.

    2) That wasn’t his first time risking his life. If you read the entire article, you’ll see that he is a disabled Vietnam veteran. I don’t think you’ll find anybody who really thinks our adventure in Vietnam was any smarter or more successful than the recent one in Iraq, but that doesn’t change the fact that thousands of American kids (whether drafted or not) put themselves in harm’s way for, theoretically, the rest of us. You have to respect that.

    3) He clearly went to BU after the war and was paying his own way.

    4) It is worth noting that back then, BU cost literally 25 times less than it does now. Nobody is telling you or your parents that after spending 50 grand a year, you’ll be working as a street vendor. Nevertheless,

    5) Again if you read the entire article, you’ll see that Jackson had a whole career in advertising before shifting gears and becoming a street vendor. It happens. I’ve only been working in an office for 10 years, and I’ve already started contemplating doing something drastically different, like farming or delivering mail.

    6) He probably actually makes boatloads of money selling handbags and golf clubs to rich people in what is possibly the fanciest vortex in the world, Times Square. Note he lives in Westchester, which from what I understand is not exactly the ghetto, and he sometimes visits Martha’s Vineyard.

    7) Finally, he GIVES AWAY some of that hard-earned cash, and his time, to minority kids who are trying to go to college, as a co-founder of the Golden Decade Foundation, a group of black professionals in NYC.

    8) Moral of the story: Think for a second and make sure you know what the hell you’re talking about before spouting off your foolish one-liners, you no-attention-span brat.

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 11:29 am

    Terrific job!

    I’m glad to see someone had the awareness to do such things. We need more people like him to realize their surroundings. Bravo!

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 11:40 am

    hahaha, manners

    manners. there are no manners when it comes to BU. if i pay this much money, i should get something out of it. and that means NEVER ending up as a street vendor in times square. wow BU.

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 12:04 pm

    Honestly, why does it matter what kind of job he has? If people think that every single alum who has graduated or will graduate from BU will be making top dollar, they’re wrong. Just because you go to BU doesn’t mean that you will necessarily have some top shot career, but it also doesn’t mean that you have to be a street vendor. It’s rude to only concern yourself with that part of the article.

    People need to stop focusing on what this man does as a living and instead respect the fact that he did try to do something. Unlike many other Americans, he didn’t walk in the opposite direction of the car. And he should be applauded for his actions regardless of what kind of job he has.

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 1:49 pm

    A BU degree wont get you much, its what you make out of it that’ll get you wherever you want to be!! Maybe for this guy being a street vendor was the life he wanted, whose to say or judge.

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 2:56 pm

    “whose to say or judge”


  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 3:52 pm

    Proud BU Grad

    Despite the ignorant and caustic comments made by previous commenters, I think I speak for the silent majority of BU students and alums when I say that I am proud of Mr. Jackson’s good deed–even if his actual contribution to the aversion of disaster may seem to be insignificant.

    While some readers of this article may attribute his ‘street vendor’ status to the lack of ambition or business acumen, the more astute reader will see Mr. Jackson’s successes in the context of his personal adversities (Vietnam, for starters) and proudly laud his numerous accomplishments.

  • New Yorker on 05.05.2010 at 3:53 pm

    Let's think positive

    I know Smokey Jackson and he is a great, fun guy. You can call him a BU success story, I do. He has a news stand and the handbag stand and some other stuff. He does pretty well for the effort. And he is a generous guy. BU should be proud of him. I certainly am.

    So to “Journalistic genius!”, “It’s good to see that with”, and others like you I say what have you done for the world lately?

    The world needs more people who take a moment to care. People like Smokey Jackson.

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 3:57 pm

    Proud BU Grad

    Despite the ignorant and caustic comments made by previous commenters, I think I speak for the silent majority of BU students and alums when I say that I am proud of Mr. Jackson’s good deed–even if his actual contribution to the aversion of disaster may seem to be insignificant.

    While some readers of this article may attribute his ‘street vendor’ status to the lack of ambition or business acumen, the more astute reader will see Mr. Jackson’s successes in the context of his personal adversities (Vietnam, for starters) and proudly laud his numerous accomplishments.

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 4:48 pm

    Re: Its good to see that with

    THAT guy noticing the smoke may have led to 100s of people’s live being saved and you’re going to ridicule him because of his occupation? Lower than low dude.

  • Greg on 05.05.2010 at 5:36 pm

    So a double major in ...

    street vending and terrorist detection finally pays for itself.

  • Anonymous on 05.05.2010 at 7:50 pm

    Quote in the article...

    Just about the way this article is written…

    I love the “duck” expression. “If it looked like a duck…” That’s one of my favorite expressions ever, and i’m happy to see it in an article hahaha

  • Anonymous on 05.06.2010 at 9:15 am

    My Roommate

    Duane Jackson was my roomate when we were at BU. The choice he made to get involved with this matter is a testament to who he is and who he has always been. A person who is actively involved in life, observant, helpful, and leaving any place he has been-a better place. Equating a monetary figure, with quality of life, has never been a truth or indication of anything. Many would marvel at what a street vendor in Times Square, NYC can earn. Also, to suggest that he is involved in any shady dealings of counterfeit merchandise is a huge slight and affront to this honorable man and world citizen. It is, and always has been, my great fortune to know him and count him as my dear friend.

  • Jason H. on 05.06.2010 at 6:58 pm

    Journalism 101...get it RIGHT!

    Speaking on the subject of title “Alum Helps Foil Times Square Bomber” is nothing short of misleading and poor investigative journalism. Someone “under the above aforementioned title, insert name here” is just writing about what others have already written and then takes it as gospel instead of probing the subject matter, meaning how did he foil it exactly, did he cut the red wire, did he feed on-site intelligence to the bomb squad commander, what degree of effort did he make to render the device safe?

    I have nothing against Mr. Jackson BU alum or not, but he foiled nothing along with the NYPD standing in close proximity to the alleged device. The device failed as designed, hence no explosion. Again, standing by watching a potential device explode is nothing short of stupid unless you’re the one trying to disrupt or disassemble it.

    As a former BU (MET 09′-MCJ) alum and bomb-tech (military EOD and federal civilian), I can tell you that those who perceive this man as being the one who foiled a fairly successful attempt take what the media report as being an absolute and have no idea the mechanisms at work in a complicated situation as this.

    Perhaps he along with the NYPD identified a threat and accordingly orchestrated an evacuation, to that I’d say “they” are hero’s and should be recognized…but to say he foiled the time square bomber is not accurate to say the least. However, I get it; it is a local BU story with BU ties. I do have to add that his chosen field of endeavor as a street vendor is as admirable as any other profession-at least he knows his area and had the situational awareness to recognize a change in surroundings, not to mention he did serve his country, which is more than most.

    “Initial Success or total Failure” (EOD Credo)

  • Anonymous on 05.07.2010 at 1:17 am

    Re: what a man!!!

    We were visting Manhattan today and wanted to pay tribute to the men that foiled the Times Square bomb plot. We did indeed find Duane Jackson….. and found him to be an incredible person, full of life and humanity. When he heard that we were from Boston, he told of us his BU connections. We were thrilled to share some time with Duane…not just because of what he did a few days ago, but because of who he is!!! What a man!!!

  • Anonymous on 05.12.2010 at 4:59 am

    BU alums

    Clearly attending BU doesn’t necessarily confer class or politeness as witnessed by several of these postings. It can’t change nastiness or a sense of entitlement!

    Here is a man who did something where most do nothing. Let us hope when you are older, you’ve done something worth writing about! Or perhaps you’ll end up on FOX saying nasty things for a living. Now that would be success in your estimation, correct?

    For my part, I am proud to have Mr. Jackson as a fellow BU alum. I thank him for his service in Vietnam and for his continuing service in Times Square. Looks like he has found true happiness in life…should we all be so fortunate.

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