When a subway rider boarded a Queens-bound E train Monday, he soon saw something -- but didn't get the response he'd hoped for when he tried to say something.
Robert Skinner, a realtor from Ocean County in New Jersey, frequently works in the city and commutes by train. He was on the subway when he noticed an agitated man holding a sharp object, "a letter opener or a knife like that," he told NBC 4 New York in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
Skinner felt fearful, especially following the recent spike in subway slashings.
"He was mumbling to himself. He was not only unstable, he was ready to blow at any moment," he said. "He also was punching the seat next to him and a lot of children were here."
So Skinner did what he thought he was supposed to do: he opened the See Something Send Something app launched by the state last fall, and he sent photos of the man through the app.
It worked -- except he got a call back underground instead of a text, and the man was still within earshot.
"I did get a phone call from 911, they asked me for all the details," said Skinner.
But even after he answered and gave the dispatcher details, including the train and car number, Skinner saw no police. The train went on for another three subway stops, while the man became increasingly agitated and started focusing his attention on Skinner, he said.
"He started coming after me. And that's when it became personal. I was terrified," he said.
Skinner got off the train at the next stop and jumped back onto the next car, "hoping I could still see him through the window and he would not see me, as I wanted to report if he was hurting anyone," he recounted in his original tip email to NBC 4 New York.
But the man got onto his car, shouting and screaming.
"I hid behind the crowd of people getting away from him," Skinner wrote in his email. "Luckily, he got off at Sutphin Boulevard but nearly found me. I had to hide behind people and a wall in the train so he could not spot me."
Nobody got hurt, but Skinner felt it was a close call.
"I am fuming mad and still terrified," he said.
In a statement to NBC 4 New York, New York State Police spokesman William Duffy said "the messages sent by this rider through the app were received by the New York State Intelligence Center and immediately forwarded to the NYPD for action in accordance with standard procedure.
"Users of the app shoul understand: It does not replace 911. If people need an immediate police response, they should call 911. This reminder is included on the app's home screen," said Duffy.
The MTA says any passenger who feels threatened can press the emergency intercom button right on the train and tell the conductor. Or the passenger can get off the train and find one of the blue Help Point kiosks, or use a station intercom.
Riders Tuesday said they've thought about what they'd do in similar situations.
"If I'm really scared, I'll probably leave the train," said Sara Baerwald of Gramercy.
Lance Simmons of Flushing said he likes the idea of the See Something, Send Something app and "it'll help a lot in the future."
Police said last week they've deployed more officers on the subway and are using new technology to communicate underground.