Former WSU student experiences horror of NYC bomb explosion first-hand

Pictured: the pressure cooker bomb that was set to go off near FIT.

Madeline Deabler

Former Wichita State student Jesse Skupa moved to New York City just a few weeks ago and was close to where the bombs exploded Saturday.

He had just started his classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) when everything came to an abrupt halt when the bomb detonated just a couple of blocks away from his new college campus. It injured 29 people.

Prior to this explosion, another bomb went off earlier that morning at a Marine Corps Charity Race in Seaside Park, New Jersey. Two other bombs were also found at this area before detonation. CNN reported the explosion was isolated, so nobody was injured.

When the second bomb went off near campus, Skupa recalls being in his dorm room talking on the phone with his uncle. He said at first he couldn’t believe what he had heard.

“In the middle of my conversation with him, I just hear this huge boom, a lot like how you think an explosion would sound, so I got off the phone with him and went to ask around my dorm and some of my friends initially thought it sounded like thunder,” Skupa said. “I live in Alumni Hall, which out of all of the dorms on campus, it’s the one closest to where the second bomb exploded on 23rd street.”

After the explosion, Skupa said a lot of his friends from New York started calling parents and relatives to let them know what was happening.

During this time, Skupa’s neighboring roommate called her parents who lived in Long Island, New York. Her parents then decided they would come pick her up and drive her back to Long Island where they thought she would be safe. Skupa said since they were all scared, he and his roommate decided to walk with her to her parents’ car.

On their way there, without knowing it, Skupa and his friends had walked right past the site where the third bomb was hidden. It was just across the street from their college FIT and only four blocks away from the site of the first bombing.

“We had all walked past it, where the third bomb was,” Skupa said. “We were just a few feet away from that thing and we had no idea. It wasn’t until an hour later that police found out it was there.”

After Skupa discovered they had walked right past where the bomb was set, it was hard to control his emotions, he said. 

 “I have a panic disorder,” he said. “So, after I found out that we had walked right past where the third bomb was, I was having full blown panic attacks because of it. At that point my friend’s parents offered to bring us to their house and then once I was away from the city, I was a little bit more calm.”

Back at the campus dorms, however, one of Skupa’s friends had a different experience.

“FIT has a computer lab that is underground,” FIT freshman Franja Sierra said. “I was there doing homework with a friend but I didn’t hear anything like everyone else did. I felt it and I thought it was an earthquake. It wasn’t until I went to the residents’ halls that I found out it was an explosion.”

Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Sierra said there was no experience that could have prepared him for this.

“Where I come from the only thing we have to deal with is drug dealers and narcos,” he said. “We never had to deal with anything like this. Being from a small town and having this happen, it was really nerve wracking.”

CNN reported the third bomb was originally found around 8 p.m. Saturday, but didn’t get removed until around 2:30 a.m. Sunday.

During this time, students inside the dorms of FIT were prohibited from leaving, and the students returning to the dorms had to be escorted in by the New York Police Department.

Because of this, students living inside the dorms had mixed reactions and feelings.

With students panicking, feeling scared and hopeless, Sierra said they all decided to throw a party to have fun while they could.

“We thought if we were going to die, we should die happy. So we played music and tried to make the best of it,” he said. “Everyone was talking to their families and saying they were okay, even though we didn’t know what would happen.”

When the third bomb was finally removed around early Sunday, a few hours later, Skupa said FIT opened back up its doors and let students move in and out as they please. It was also during the time when Skupa and his friends returned back to the dorms from Long Island.

“New York is usually so busy and loud,” Skupa said. “But when we came back it was so quiet and not nearly as busy. It was a really eerie and strange thing to see.”

Later Sunday night, five bombs were found in a waste bucket outside of a pub, 16 miles outside of New York City. It wasn’t until Monday morning that police officials arrested the man suspected of the bombing crimes in New York, New Jersey and Seaside Park, CNN reported.

“I’m so relieved that it seems to be over and done with,” Skupa said. “Everything still feels so surreal, but back home in Kansas when you hear stuff like this you are like, ‘Oh, that sucks.’ But it’s still different to be here. It just seems like nothing happened here.”