By MC3 Daniel C. Coxwest
USS Iwo Jima Public Affairs
Two Sailors from the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) were walking through Times Square the moment a man drove his vehicle through a crowd of pedestrians May 19.
Airman David Barba, a Sailor from Salinas, California and Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) 3rd Class Andrew Miller, from Dallas were in front of a Walgreens on 42nd St. and 7th Ave. when Richard Rojas careened his vehicle into the crowded sidewalk, killing and injuring those in his path until his vehicle crashed 3.5 blocks later.
"There were people going over the car, under the car and people getting thrown off of the road," said Barba. "It was ruthless, and the driver just kept speeding up. The sound of the engine just kept getting louder and louder. It's unforgettable."
"I originally thought it was a terrorist attack," said Miller. "I've seen things like that on the news, such as in Paris, and thought this could have been a copycat."
The Sailors' first instincts were to run toward the danger.
"People were running away from the scene while most just stood there in shock," said Barba. "I just knew we had to do something and help as much as we could. Miller and I both ran across the street to help however we could, and the first person ended up being the 18-year-old girl who was killed in the incident."
Alyssa Elsman was killed and 22 others were injured, including Elsman's 13-year-old sister, Ava.
"I ended up finding the sister of the girl who passed away," said Barba. "I just stayed with her, held her hand and told her that everything was going to be alright. Once the paramedics arrived on scene we let them take control of the situation."
Miller and Barba assisted three of the injured following the incident, and Barba acknowledged that his training in the Navy gave him the confidence to assess the situation, react and help comfort the injured.
Miller stressed the importance of taking action in any emergent situation.
"I just want to tell people to stay alert, stay vigilant and call 9-1-1," said Miller. "A lot of people just assume that someone else has called an ambulance. Just call. It doesn't matter if 20 people called before you - make sure that help is on the way."
Following the tragic event, Barba and Miller were contacted by family members affected by the incident.
"The father of Alyssa wrote us a message saying "Thank you for your kindness," and that he wanted to meet both of us, said Miller. "Hopefully we have a chance to do that in the future, I think it would mean a lot to him, and I know that it would definitely mean a lot to us."
The Commanding Officer of the ship echoed the gratitude.
"That was just a bad day for all of us and at that moment, it would have been completely understandable for them to get away from the danger, not knowing if more attacks were imminent." said Capt. James Midkiff. "We train our Sailors every day for intense situations where they must react using their training. To see them react the way they did makes me very proud of them and hopefully made the situation a little less bad for those in Times Square who were injured during this incident."
USS Iwo Jima is homeported in Mayport, Fla. Barba and Miller were on leave visiting New York.