Salman Rushdie Stabbing Witness Describes Horrific Scene from Onstage Attack: 'There Was a Loud Roar'

Famed author Salman Rushdie was attacked at the Chautauqua Institution on Friday before giving a lecture

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie. Photo: David Levenson/Getty

It was an ordinary Friday for David Brody, a Pittsburgh native who was vacationing in western New York and planning to attend an event at the Chautauqua Institution: "They always have a speaker around 10:45 a.m., and today's speaker was Salman Rushdie."

He walked into the theater just as the attack on the acclaimed writer occurred. "I was about to go in the gate when I heard this loud roar," Brody says. "At first I thought it was somebody welcoming him, but then I could tell by the sound — it was not applause."

Inside, several men on the stage were attending to Rushdie and police officers were subduing the assailant. Rushdie is on a ventilator unable to speak and will likely lose one eye, according to a statement his agent gave to The New York Times.

Authorities have detained Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old man from New Jersey, for the attack.

In the theater, the audience remained calm. "Most people stayed there and sat there," Brody says, adding, "People were not running. There was no panic. People sat there until they were asked to leave."

Within about 10 to 12 minutes, a spokesperson asked everyone to exit in an orderly fashion and take their belongings with them. "Outside, there was a number of small groups that formed, where people were having impromptu prayer or vigil meetings," Brody says.

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Those were broken up when everyone was asked to disperse, Brody adds, as officials began "locking down the area" and "police dogs were search[ing] all over the grounds to make sure there were no bombs" or "anything suspicious."

"Knowing the history of Mr. Rushdie," Brody says, "I would say I was surprised, but not totally shocked [by the attack]. He's had many, many death threats."

Noting the Chautauqua Institution a "very tranquil idyllic place," Brody said the security is very light. "There are no metal detectors to get in, either to the grounds or the amphitheater. It's on a lake where there are many, many docks," he said of what he witnessed. "So I guess from that point of view, I wasn't shocked that somebody could get in."

PEOPLE has reached out to the Chautauqua Institution for comment.

The Institute apparently had been considering tighter security, Brody says. "I was talking to one of the women [with the] Institute about how the security, unfortunately, is going to have to be tightened here. And they were already discussing that in wake of the Tops incident in Buffalo [where 10 people were shot and killed at a supermarket], which is only about 55 or 60 miles from here."

While the Institute has hosted speakers, including former presidents such as Bill Clinton, Brody believes it's relatively easy to come and go on the grounds and the event was well publicized.

"It's been planned for months," he explains, noting it was listed on the public calendar of the Institute's website.

RELATED VIDEO: Salman Rushdie Attacked on Stage in New York

"My family belongs to the Tree of Life [where a shooter opened fire and killed 11 people]," Brody says. "After living through that nothing surprises me anymore. It is a symptom of the violence and the danger in our society that nobody is safe. Unfortunately, there's no place that's immune today from violence. It can happen anywhere today, as we've learned. And it's a shame that we have to live with that."

The Institute posted a statement on their website announcing the cancelation of all programs for the day and saying, "We ask for your prayers for Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese [who was also on stage during the attack and was injured], and patience as we fully focus on coordinating and cooperating with police officials following a tragic incident at the amphitheater today."

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