Longtime Baltimore resident and broadcaster recounts witnessing attack on world-renowned writer Salman Rushdie in Chautauqua, New York

Published on: August 12, 2022 6:47 PM EDT|Updated on: August 12, 2022 7:12 PM EDT

Author Salman Rushdie at the Blue Sofa at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse) on October 12, 2017 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

It was around 10:45 a.m. on Friday morning in Chautauqua, New York. Judith Krummeck, a writer, broadcaster and longtime Baltimore resident, was seated about halfway back at the Chautauqua Amphitheater — excited to hear author Salman Rushdie speak.

At a podium to the right of the stage was Director of the Literary Arts Sony Ton-Aime, who was there to introduce Rushdie to the crowd. He’d barely begun, Krummeck said, when a sudden movement caught her eye.

A man had jumped up on stage, Krummeck recounted from where she is staying at Clear Creek Farm in western New York, and within seconds had reached Rushdie, who was sitting in a beige chair facing moderator Henry Reese. It “looked as if he [the assailant] was pounding him,” Krummeck said.

Rushdie quickly slid sideways out of his chair to get away, Krummeck said, but the man followed him and pushed him to the ground, where he continued to strike Rushdie.

Krummeck could not see a knife, she said, but witnessed a spray of blood on the screen behind where Rushdie was sitting. She’d later learn that Rushdie had been stabbed at least twice.

“And then we were all just sitting there in a state of shock, obviously, and another writer who I connected with earlier this week, she called me over and we just clung to each other in tears,” Krummeck said. “It’s just horrendous.”

State police said Rushdie was apparently stabbed in the neck and abdomen. Authorities have identified the attacker as 24-year-old Hati Matar from New Jersey. Krummeck said the man was wearing dark clothing and a black mask at the time of the attack. He “seemed to appear out of nowhere,” Krummeck said, and guesses he was sitting in the front row of the amphitheater.

Rushdie was set to speak as part of a lecture series at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. He was supposed to talk about “how writers in exile can find sanctuary in the U.S,” Krummeck said, “which of course is just horrendously ironic given what happened today,” she added.

Rushdie is a world-famous writer who has authored novels including the Booker Prize-winning “Midnight’s Children” and later “The Satanic Verses.” The latter prompted the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran to call for Rushdie’s death in 1989 and to ban the book in that country. Rushdie was in hiding in Britain for nine years. He is also the former president of PEN America, and has spoken out in support of free expression.

Krummeck, herself a writer and evening drive-time host of WBJC, a classical music radio station in Maryland, said she is a big fan of Rushdie.

“Honestly, he could have been talking about anything and I would have gone,” Krummeck said. “He’s such a pillar in the literary world, and I’d never heard him speak, and I was very, very anxious to go.”

Krummeck was one of around 2,000 audience members who had come to see Rushdie speak, she said, in an amphitheater that seats over 4,000. They’d welcomed him with huge applause, she said, which he acknowledged with a smile and a nod.

Some of those audience members immediately rushed onstage to help Rushdie, Krummeck said, and reached the attacker quickly. Soon, there were around a dozen people around Rushdie, including someone working security, Krummeck recalled.

The attack itself may have been around half a minute, Krummeck said, but “it felt like forever.” She said it took the group a long time to pull the attacker off of Rushdie. “They kept on trying to pull him, but he just didn’t [budge]. He was absolutely stuck to Salman Rushdie,” Krummeck said, and was continuing to strike him. According to police, a state trooper arrested the attacker.

People within the group held Rushdie’s legs up, Krummeck said, presumably to get blood flow to his torso. And soon after, she saw him walking off stage between two men.

“They seemed even not really to be supporting him,” Krummeck said. “He was upright and walking slowly but he was able to walk.”

Rushdie was later flown to the hospital, and according to Gov. Kathy Hochul, was alive and “getting the care he needs.” The moderator suffered minor injuries.

Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer of the Chautauqua Institution Deborah Sunya Moore evacuated audience members, who exited calmly, Krummeck said.

According to the Chautauqua Institution’s website, all Friday programs were canceled. The summer lecture series is nine weeks in total, Krummeck said. Each week has a different theme, and runs from Sunday to Saturday. Krummeck was there giving lectures at a nearby building as part of the series.

Krummeck said she was “standing around for at least 15 minutes, and then security started showing us away. By then they were starting to put the yellow crime tape round the amphitheater.”

“One just has to wonder how this is going to affect Chautauqua, and how it will affect him. I mean it’s just terrifying. And he’s always been so incredibly brave, you know, and refusing to allow this to cower him, so we’ll just have to see.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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