Fred Roldan sensed something was wrong when a young man came into his Brooklyn school one day in January asking the school security officer to phone him a cab.
“He looked a little weird to me,” said Roldan, a longtime cleaner and fireman at the school, P.S. 45 in Bushwick. “So I stood around to see what was going on.”
Just then the sound of police sirens came from the streets. As the security officer stepped to the front door to see what was going on, the young man started to head upstairs toward the school office.
Roldan blocked him, telling him that he couldn’t enter the building and had to wait for the security officer.
Then they heard a voice outside yell, “He’s in the building. The guy’s in the building.”
Within moments, Roldan saw the young man grab a gun from inside his pants. “I grabbed his arm that he held it with and said, ‘Drop it. Drop it.’ He dropped it on the ground. I grabbed him and put him up against the wall, and then the cops were coming up the stairs.”
Roldan said he believes the young man was intending to try to hide the gun before the police came in, but, “I wasn’t waiting to find out.”
Several days later a police lieutenant and captain came to personally thank Roldan for his bravery and quick thinking. The principal has also thanked him. He said kids at the elementary school who heard about the incident on the news have called him a hero, and Roldan’s son, Noah, a sixth-grader at the school “is holding his head up high.”
Roldan said any of the other maintenance staff would have done the same thing. Although this incident was highly unusual, he said he and the other school cleaners routinely go above and beyond to guard the safety of children and staff at their school.
When teachers have car trouble outside the school, some of the cleaners have gone out to help them get their cars started. When students at the school are playing outside on the school yard in the evenings, Roldan and his coworkers check in case older children come to bother them.
“We keep an eye out to make sure nothing happens,” Roldan said.
Gene Szymanski, Schools Division Director at 32BJ, said he was proud to hear of Roldan’s bravery, but not surprised.
“Our 5,000 cleaners in New York schools are the unsung heroes of our school system,” Szymanski said. “We have a member who not long ago protected a child from a suspicious-looking person lurking outside the building before school opened in the morning. We have many, many members who during and after Superstorm Sandy worked round the clock and on weekends to run emergency shelters and repair damaged schools quickly. Every day, school cleaners do whatever it takes to keep our schools running and our kids safe.”