A Bronx school safety agent who was slashed in the head while defending a counselor from an alleged armed intruder says that's he'd make the exact same split-second decision again if he could.
Parents, administrators and even Mayor Eric Adams called the actions of Hector Garcia heroic, as he intervened to save an educator inside PS 69, Journey Prep School, and thwarted an attack from the suspect.
But the 55-year-old Garcia's first thought was not about his safety, it was about the students.
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"I call them my children, my kids," he told NBC New York. "I thank God there was no children and little kids around."
The incident occurred around 7:40 a.m. at the school on Theiriot Avenue, when Garcia heard a "commotion" come over his radio just minutes before children were due to arrive Thursday morning. Garcia went to help, and saw a counselor struggling against a man.
"I see the counselor...on the floor, crying," he said. "Then the teach came by, Mr. Nash, and broke them up from fighting, then he starting fighting with the perp."
When Garcia, a 27-year veteran of the force, tried to pull the suspect off the teacher, that's when he said the suspect — later identified as Claudio Villar — lashed out.
"When he aimed, I bent down and he caught me up here instead of here," he said pointing first behind his ear, then pointing to his neck, believing the attacker intended to go for his throat. "I think he was trying to aim for the main artery."
Garcia believes that one quick shift saved his life, leaving him with a deep puncture wound behind his ear.
"He was infuriated...he wanted to kill somebody," he said.
Villar also allegedly slashed the teacher in the arm before running off. Police arrested him near the school shortly after the alleged attack, and he is in police custody. A senior law enforcement official described the suspect as the former boyfriend of the counselor he allegedly tried to attack.
Garcia, who said he spent 10 days in the hospital in 2020 with a serious bout of COVID-19, said he believes "God saved me again." He said he loves his job, but admits that in more than two decades at the school, things appear to be getting worse.
"As time goes by, we notice that the violence has been going up," Garcia said.
The violence at the school came less than a week after an honor student died and two other students were wounded in a drive-by shooting outside a high school in the same borough. The latest incident has local advocates calling for more support.
"This recent incident highlights why we need to have a full contingent of school safety agents," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. "We are down at least 2,000 safety agents from where we should be. Today, we are grateful to the teacher and school safety agent at PS 69 for stepping in to protect their colleague and thankful that no one was more seriously injured."
Garcia wants more to be done and to get more support, and NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks agrees.
"This is not how we should be spending our days. And it's been day after day after day of madness," Banks said.
President of Local 237 Teamsters union Gregory Floyd agreed.
Floyd also demanded the mayor provide more school safety agents "now," as did the NYC School Safety Coalition, a local group representing parents, families, religious leaders, and community leaders.
"What will it take? Death? Mayor Adams: hire more school agents now," Floyd said.
The coalition said there have been 41 attacks on school safety agents during this academic year alone, up from 30% the previous year, and also asked for more help.
Still, Garcia said he is happy he was there to help make sure no one got seriously hurt, saying "if I had to do it again, I'd do it again. To save somebody's life."
Since the attack, Garcia says that many people have told him he should retire, but he's not sure — after all, what would he do without his kids, he asks.