It’s been a whirlwind for Riverhead High School’s Peter Cybulski since the night of July 20.
It was on that evening that Mr. Cybulski, a 24-year-old officer with the New York Police Department and Sgt. Hameed Armani drove what was believed to be an explosive device out of Times Square in an effort to save thousands of civilians.
The very next morning the men were honored by NYPD Commissioner William Bratton at a press conference, and later had a private meeting with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Now Mr. Cybulski, a 2009 graduate of Riverhead High School, has been honored much closer to home. Last Wednesday, the Flanders resident became just the 22nd person to receive the Distinguished Service Medal, Suffolk’s highest honor, according to County Executive Steve Bellone, who called Mr. Cybulski a “true hero.”
“I’m overwhelmed with all the love and support,” Mr. Cybulski told the News-Review following the ceremony. “I’m truly honored to be here today.”
The heroic events unfolded after a man tossed a device believed to be an explosive in the marked NYPD van of Mr. Cybulski and Sgt. Armani. When the device landed in the rear seat of the officers’ van, Mr. Cybulski immediately thought it was a bomb.
“There were thousands of people around,” he recalled. “People were just getting out of shows.
“We just thought we need to save these people’s lives,” he said, detailing how they drove the device away from the crowded area. “[I remember thinking] if that means giving up our lives to get [the device] away from here than I’m OK with that.”
At 7:45 a.m. the following day, 52-year-old Hector Meneses was taken into custody in connection with the incident after a standoff in which police surrounded his vehicle in Columbus Circle, the NYPD said. Police negotiated with Mr. Meneses, who stated he had explosives in the vehicle.
No explosives were ultimately found at either scene.
Last week’s ceremony was attended by Mr. Bellone, Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, Suffolk police commissioner Tim Sini and Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter. Sgt. Armani also stood at his partner’s side during the event.
“Your actions that day to put yourselves at risk and to save other people is very inspiring and truly amazing,” Mr. Krupski said.
“We are very humbled to be in your presence,” added Mr. Sini.
Mr. Cybulski said he was at peace with the idea that, if it were a bomb in the police vehicle, he was going to die that night.
“I said my prayers and I was just waiting for it to detonate,” he recalled.
Of being called a hero, Mr. Cybulski said it’s a “humbling” experience.
“There are so many heroes around the world,” he said, “other police officers who have given their lives and were so courageous and so brave.”