Before they helped catch a man accused of carrying out the worst attack on the New York City subway in decades, before the police commissioner said they were heroes and before they were given a reward for their quick actions, Mohamad Cheikh and Zack Tahhan had just been two guys spending a regular day at work.
They were upgrading security cameras at a Manhattan hardware shop on the afternoon of April 13 when Frank R. James walked by in broad daylight hours after the attack, during which the police say he released two smoke grenades and opened fire as the N train moved between stations in Brooklyn.
Ten people were shot, and, according to federal prosecutors, a total of 30 people were injured.
“I didn’t expect that he’s going to be walking around in the city in a sunny day between the people,” Mr. Cheikh, 25, said Wednesday. “We were shocked, you know?”
Mr. Cheikh and Mr. Tahhan, 22, were among four people honored in a ceremony at Police Department headquarters, presented with a proclamation by Mayor Eric Adams, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell and Janno Lieber, the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway.
They were joined by Francisco Puebla, a manager at Saifee, the hardware and garden store on First Avenue at Seventh Street where the two men had been working, and Jack Griffin, a 17-year-old high school student who was on a field trip to Chinatown that morning when he captured photos of Mr. James, posted them on social media and called the police.
“Each of these individuals exemplifies the determination and courage that makes us all proud to be New Yorkers,” Ms. Sewell said. “Their actions remind us every day, in every corner of our city, we are surrounded by heroes.”
All four will share an evenly split reward of $50,000 along with one other tipster who asked to remain anonymous.
The police said that at about 8:30 a.m. on April 12, Mr. James pulled on a gas mask while riding an N train and dropped two devices that filled the car with smoke. He then began shooting the first of three 30-round-capacity magazines into the car. He fired off a magazine and loaded a second into his handgun and squeezed off three more rounds. Mr. James had at least 57 more bullets at his disposal when the gun jammed, which probably saved people from being killed.
The attack rattled New Yorkers. It came as the city struggled with questions about public safety both in and out of the subway and at a time when the M.T.A. is desperately trying to win back riders who abandoned the system early in the pandemic.
Mr. James was charged under a federal terrorism statute and is being held without bail.
He was arrested after the police received a tip that he was in Manhattan’s East Village. Mr. James’s lawyers and some law-enforcement officials have said that he called the police himself from a McDonald’s as his photos began circulating on social media and in the press.
He then left the McDonalds and was walking in the street when Mr. Puebla, Mr. Tahhan and Mr. Cheikh saw him that afternoon. They flagged him to nearby police officers, Mr. Cheikh said.
Much of the credit for his arrest has gone to Mr. Tahhan, who held an impromptu news conference Wednesday afternoon surrounded by reporters. In his excitement, he held onto one of the news microphones and began interviewing other people around him. His enthusiasm and charm inspired the hashtag #ThankYouZack.
But Mr. Tahhan said he doesn’t care about the money or the fame.
“I want to make America and New York safe,” Mr. Tahhan said. “I try to do my best. Thank you so much, guys.”