The tabloids have dubbed him the "Death Wish vigilante" after the Charles Bronson movie in which a bulldog-faced architect avenges his wife's murder by shooting street criminals. Bernhard Hugo Goetz has become a symbol of macho revenge in the naked city.
Arraigned here today on charges of attempted murder, the electronics whiz, dressed in blue jeans and a brown leather jacket, stood impassively as Assistant District Attorney Susan Braver described how he "methodically" pumped bullets from his .38-cal. pistol into four black youths who Goetz said accosted him in a subway last month, asking for $5.
"By his own admission, he intended to kill each one of them," Braver said, describing how, after firing one shot into each youth, Goetz "calmly" checked the first two fallen youths and fired a fifth time into a youth who was still standing. The "shooting frenzy" ended, she charged, because Goetz ran out of ammunition.
Goetz was ordered held on $50,000 bail and was sent to Rikers' Island jail in Manhattan.
While the alleged gunman appears to have captured the public's imagination -- thousands of New Yorkers have called the police and media outlets to congratulate him -- the man known to his friends and relatives as "Bernie" Goetz seems hardly to fit the crime.
"Mild-mannered," "civic-minded," "gentlemanly" is the way acquaintances describe Goetz, 37, the son of immigrant German dairy farmers from upstate New York.
An honors graduate of New York University in nuclear engineering, Goetz ran his own electronics business, living quietly in a bachelor pad on the outskirts of Greenwich Village.
"He's intelligent, quick-witted and very quiet-spoken," said Bernard Goldstein, owner of Leeds Radio Co., and a friend of Goetz. "He treated everyone with respect. He wouldn't harm a fly as far as I'm concerned."
Goldstein said that although Goetz was a teetotaler, he was "an extrovert" who enjoyed going out and would repair friends' electronic equipment for free.
In 1981, however, Goetz experienced a brush with crime that left him frightened and preoccupied.
According to police, Goetz, carrying several hundred dollars in electronics equipment, was attacked and severely beaten by three youths at a subway station one afternoon.
A 16-year-old Brooklynite, Fred Clarke, was arrested in the attack after a police officer saw him try to to push Goetz through a plate glass window.
Goetz suffered torn cartilage and tissue in his chest and told friends his knees were damaged after he was knocked to the ground.
A year later, when he applied to the city for a gun permit, Goetz complained that Clarke was released by police after being kept for two hours and 32 minutes. Goetz said he saw the same youth attack a couple three weeks later, according to a transcript of the gun-permit hearing.
More than 12,000 serious crimes were committed in New York subways in 1984, according to the city transit authority.
Goetz was denied the permit, but he told police in Concord, N.H., where he was arrested this week after surrendering, that "the incident was an education . . . . It taught me that the city doesn't care what happens to you."
In a telephone interview from Orlando, Goetz' sister Bernice said that before the incident, "my brother was a pretty confident guy. But after being mugged by three people and beaten silly, he realized that being a fairly strong person didn't matter necessarily."
Police said Goetz purchased his pistol in Florida, where his parents moved in 1963 and where he lived five years with his former wife, Elizabeth.
"I don't blame him for what he did," Bernice Goetz said. "I think he acted in self-defense."
The men Goetz shot, 18 and 19 years old, all of the Bronx, had criminal records and were armed with sharpened screwdrivers, according to police. Two have been released from the hospital, and two others are in critical condition, one paralyzed from the waist down.
Although Goetz is white and the victims are black, the controversy here over the shooting has not been along racial lines. Roy Innis, head of the Congresss of Racial Equality, was one of the first to volunteer help in Goetz' defense.
"This man has made the greatest contribution to crime reduction in the last 25 to 30 years . . . because this man fought back and did what many of us should do to give a signal to the criminals," Innis said. Two of Innis' sons have been victims of crime -- one killed and one injured in a stabbing.
Even the mother of Barry Allen, one of the victims who has been released by the hospital, appeared on WCBS-TV and said of Goetz:
"Living here in New York, I can say I feel sympathetic toward him . . . that maybe he was approached by the kids. If he was, then I wish he would have turned them over to the police rather than shooting them. That was drastic . . . . If he files charges against them and it sticks, then maybe there is something to what he said."
At a subway station at Lexington Avenue and 51st Street today, three blacks and six whites were asked about the shooting. The three blacks expressed some sympathy for Goetz, while the whites were more ambivalent.
"He's 100 percent right," said Cynthia Miller, a black nurse from Brooklyn. "If it were me, I'd do the same thing. He defended himself."