Lee Parker thought he had hit the jackpot when he found a nice backpack abandoned on top of a trashcan in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on Sunday. But as soon as he opened it, he says, he could tell something wasn't right.
At first, Mr. Parker believed that the item he pulled out of the backpack was a decorative candle, but he knew something was wrong when he spotted the wires. He and his friend Ivan White reported the bomb to police, after realizing it was likely connected to previous explosions Saturday night in New York City.
"These men were first identified as homeless, but they shouldn't be anonymous," Linda Flores-Tober, the executive director of the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, told the Associated Press. "They did the right thing and deserve all of the attention for what they are – heroes. They deserve to be known."
Since this weekend, donations have been rolling in to support the two men, who normally live a hardscrabble life in Elizabeth, with Mr. White living on fixed income and Parker never knowing where he'll lay his head each night. As of Thursday morning, a GoFundMe page set up to benefit Parker, White, and the Elizabeth Coalition for the Homeless Parker has received more than $20,000.
Be the Change NJ, a community service group based at Kean University, has arranged for Parker to stay at a local hotel. The men have also received food and clothing from donors, including a backpack.
Still, despite all the celebrity, Parker told the Associated Press that all he really wants is a job.
Parker's humility and carry-on attitude are emblematic of New York's response to the bombings. Although New York City was shaken by bombings in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood over the weekend, many New Yorkers responded with little fear, as The Christian Science Monitor reported on Monday.
"Beyond the clichés of resilience and toughness and even hardened cynicism, many New Yorkers reacted to this weekend's blast with something far less than a nightmarish sense of dread," wrote the Monitor's Harry Bruinius. "Even a terrorist attack wasn't enough to dislodge the feeling that this is no longer a place where residents need to live in fear."
The "NYPD (and FDNY) really are the gold standard with respect to counterterrorism and emergency preparedness," Frank Cilluffo, a former special assistant for homeland security and now director of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, wrote to the Monitor. "It has set the bar high, invests heavily in security and worked hard to meet that bar – including in this case, where NYPD moved quickly and collaborated closely with both federal and state authorities."
After one explosion rocked the Chelsea neighborhood of New York on Saturday evening, injuring 29 people, a bomb squad used a total containment vessel to prevent a second weapon from exploding. And in New Jersey, a bomb squad robot detonated one explosive in the backpack while transporting the others for investigation.
Parker told the Associated Press that he doesn't like to dwell on what might have happened.
"I don't like to think about what could have happened, but I'm just so blessed and glad it didn't," Parker said. "I still have my nine lives, I guess, and I'm going to keep trying to live them well."
This report includes material from the Associated Press.