MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT — A woman who nearly lost her eye in last year's Chelsea bombing recounted in harrowing detail how emergency responders told her to "pray" in the frantic moments following the West 23rd Street explosion during the first day of the accused terrorist's trial Monday.
The Chelsea resident — one of eight witnesses who took the stand at the start of the trial of Ahmad Khan Rahimi, who is accused of planting two bombs in Chelsea last September — recalled how she had been walking back to her apartment after shopping Downtown when she heard a "loud bang" and saw a "blinding" flash.
"I felt myself thrust upwards and forwards," testified Helena Ayeh, who told the court she lived on the West 23rd Street for the past 13 or 14 years. “My glasses had stayed on… [but] all of a sudden, I realized I couldn’t see anything."
When she finally managed to open her left eye, she saw her arm covered in blood and felt a "very strong pain in [her] knees," Ayeh recalled Monday. Someone at the scene led her to an ambulance, where a medical worker inside asked her to take her hand off her right eye and shut her left eye.
“I didn’t feel pain — I just felt blood,” Ayeh testified. “I said, ‘Please, tell me, is my eye still there?’”
The medical worker hesitated before the woman asked her the question again.
"She said, 'Do you believe in God?' I said, 'Yes,' and she said, ‘Pray,'" Ayeh recounted. "I said, ‘Will you pray for me, too?’ And she said, ‘I already have.’”
A doctor at the hospital told her she’d suffered a cut from the corner of her eye to the inside of her eye and was “lucky” she still could see, she said. Whatever had struck the woman missed her eyeball by a “fraction of a millimeter,” Ayeh explained.
After a few weeks, her vision returned to her right eye and she was able to return to work, the woman noted.
The court also heard from another victim, Aikeida Wilson, who suffered burns from the explosion and needed to have shards of metal removed from her chest and leg.
The clothing designer from Brooklyn had just eaten dinner with two friends and was walking along West 23rd Street when they heard a “very loud popping noise," she recalled Monday.
Wilson, who said she was standing only 5 or 6 feet from the site of the blast, ran into a nearby building to take cover for around five minutes before running across the street to look for her friends.
An ambulance took her to NYU Langone, where she learned that debris and metal shards had entered her body and that she had been burned in several places on her body, she testified.
Doctors had to cut metal out of Wilson's chest and leg, but weren’t able to remove a piece in her leg, telling her it would eventually exit her body naturally, she said.
Since the incident, she has seen both a physician and a dermatologist for scars she sustained, and was in trauma therapy for “some time,” she told the court.
Rahimi faces charges including using a weapon of mass destruction, bombing a place of public use and destroying property by means of fire or explosive.