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Bernhard Goetz is best known as the "Subway Vigilante" for shooting four teenagers during an attempted mugging in a subway car.
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Bernhard Goetz, born November 7, 1947, is best known for his moniker "the Subway Vigilante." Following an assault in 1981, Goetz was infuriated by the lack of prosecution of the three assailants. He decided to start carrying a gun for protection. In 1984, four teenagers approached Goetz again, but this time Goetz shot all four, paralyzing one. The case made him a folk hero for many New Yorkers.
"I would, without any hesitation, shoot a violent criminal again."
"I'm amazed at this celebrity status. I want to remain anonymous."
Infamous New Yorker and folk hero Bernhard Hugo Goetz was born on November 7, 1947, in Queens, New York. The youngest of four children, Goetz was raised largely in upstate New York. His father, a German immigrant, owned a bookbinding business and 300-acre dairy farm. At the age of 12, however, Goetz saw family life take a dramatic turn after his father was arrested on charges of molesting two 15-year-old boys. The elder Goetz pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
To spare him further embarrassment, Bernhard was sent to Switzerland to attend boarding school. He eventually returned to the U.S. and enrolled at New York University, where he earned a degree in electrical and nuclear engineering. By the late 1970s, Goetz owned and operated a small business that specialized in calibrating high-end electronic equipment.
Goetz thrived in a world of machines and precise calculations, but dealing with people was another story. He was dismayed at what he viewed as the crumbling social structure of New York City, and pushed hard for city officials to clean up his neighborhood. Then, in January 1981, he was attacked by three teenagers at a subway station. He was lucky to escape with just a knee injury, but two of the three assailants managed to escape. The other spent just a few hours at a police station. Goetz was furious and, before the year was out, he applied for a gun permit.
On December 22, 1984, Goetz entered an empty Manhattan train, carrying an unlicensed .38 caliber revolver. Also on the car were four teenagers: Troy Canty, Barry Allen, Darrell Cabey and James Ramseur. As witness testimony later stated, Goetz had barely taken his seat when the young men approached Goetz for $5. When Goetz refused, Canty responded, "Give me your money."
Suspecting he was being set up for another mugging, Goetz stood up and said, "You all can have it." Goetz started firing his revolver, wounding all four teens. When the train came to a stop, a startled Goetz ran out of the car and eventually fled the city, making his way to Concord, New Hampshire. Eight days after the shooting, Goetz finally turned himself into police.
The New York City that Goetz returned to was a different place than the one he'd left. New Yorkers, tired of the crime that had gripped their home, vaulted Goetz to hero status. Joan Rivers sent Goetz a telegram of "love and kisses" and said she would help out with his bail money. T-shirts celebrating Goetz's actions sprang up everywhere. Goetz, who posted his own $50,000 bail, wanted none of it. At least not at first. "I'm amazed at this celebrity status," he told the New York Post.
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