Friend tries to explain why man hung from the side of Trump Tower in Chicago for more than 13 hours

©Chicago Tribune

The Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago on Oct. 19, 2020, after an unidentified man had been dangling off of the 16th floor of the building for more than 13 hours. - Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS

CHICAGO — It’s been three days since a man was lifted to safety after hanging on the side of Trump Tower for 13 hours, but one of his closest friends says he’s still frightened for him.

“He’s never done anything like this before. I don’t know how it will end up,” said Marlen, who didn’t want his last name used so he wouldn’t be harassed on social media. “I’m really scared.”

Marlen and his friend are both from the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. His friend delivers newspapers for a living, is a purple belt in jujitsu and is an avid reader. “He’s a very intelligent person,” Marlen said. “He is a nerd guy. He likes to dig deep. He’s fond of Noam Chomsky.” The Chicago Tribune is not naming the man because he has not been criminally charged.

Marlen said his friend was excited after recently reading a book by Chomsky, a celebrated linguist and philosopher who’s a sharp critic of American policies. He believes that’s why he rappelled down the side of the downtown high-rise and threatened to cut himself loose if he didn’t get his message out.

“He was just trying to let people know about the book and share his opinion,” Marlen said. “Now, Noam Chomsky knows about him.”

Marlen said he was home relaxing early Sunday evening when the phone rang. “Do you know who’s up at Trump Tower?” the caller asked. “It’s your friend.”

He hung up and turned on the television, and there was his friend, hanging from the side of Trump Tower and holding a knife. Marlen said he sped downtown, parked and walked up to one of the dozens of emergency responders on the scene. “I’m his friend,” he told them. “I can help you.”

He was led to the 16th floor terrace where a police SWAT team, firefighters and a Russian translator were figuring out what to do about his 31-year-old friend, who was hanging from a harness about 8 feet below them and bouncing his feet against the window. Among them was Chicago Fire Chief Jamar Sullivan, head of the technical rescue operation.

“Tough dude. … Whoever that cat was,” Sullivan said.

Since the man was refusing to come back up, Sullivan figured there were at least three other options: Send firefighters down the rope to him, haul him up to the terrace or send divers after him if he plunged into the Chicago River below.

About 15 to 20 firefighters were assembled on the terrace, patiently waiting as temperatures dipped. They were close enough to see him clearly and assess about how much he weighed and what they would need. Sullivan said they realized they were not dealing with an amateur when they saw his gear and the knots he tied.

“He was wearing Class 2 rock climbers, for mountain climbing,” Sullivan said.

The man had attached a large rope to a pole on the terrace, hooked it to a “real lightweight” harness and shimmied down the side. “This guy knew what he was doing, the knots he tied,” Sullivan said. “He knew.”

As the man hung on the side of the building, he livestreamed himself saying he wanted to speak with the media and with President Donald Trump, but he was never clear exactly what his message was. Waving a knife, he threatened to cut the rope.

Marlen said he told his friend, “Come up. You can face the media here and deliver your message. It’s safer here.”

The man still refused to move, and negotiators reached the man’s brother by phone. “Please come up, everything is going to be fine,” the brother said in Russian as a bullhorn was placed in front of the cellphone. “The whole family here is worried about you.”

But the man remained where he was and kept repeating he wanted to talk to a reporter, mentioning one by name from out of state. He then became “irritated” and “not very responsive,” according to the police translator, Officer Yevgeniy Pisarenko, who talked to the man in Russian.

Everyone backed off and monitored him with cameras to make sure he didn’t start cutting the rope.

After a while, Pisarenko tried talking to the man again, telling him it wasn’t easy to get the reporter he wanted in the middle of the night. The man said he “wanted to wait until morning.”

“What’s so important about the morning?” Pisarenko asked.

“I want to see the sun one last time,” the man replied.

After dawn, authorities reached the reporter and got a live screenshot of him. “The sun had already come up and they showed it to him,” and then he dropped the knife, Pisarenko said.

The SWAT team plucked him out of the harness, checked him out and escorted him to an ambulance headed for Northwestern Memorial Hospital to be evaluated. “It literally took two or three seconds once they (negotiators) said: ‘Go!’” Sullivan said. “It worked out perfectly.”

Through it all, the man didn’t say a word. “They said nothing to him,” Sullivan said. “And he didn’t verbalize anything to police. He said nothing about why he was there. Nothing.”

But that was not the end of the ordeal. On Monday evening, the man was being transferred to the Madden Mental Health Center in Maywood when he unbuckled himself from a gurney and fled out the back door of an ambulance. Police say he changed clothes in the vestibule of a store and hailed a cab on State Street. He was arrested eight hours later.

The incident only worried Marlen more. He has not talked to his friend since Sunday evening and has no idea what’s next.


©2020 Chicago Tribune

Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS
A man suspended himself from the 16th-floor landing of downtown Chicago's Trump International Hotel and Tower on Sunday evening. SWAT and Chicago Fire Department were called to the scene. - Paige Fry/Chicago Tribune/TNS
An unidentified man had been dangling off of the 16th floor of Trump Tower in Chicago for more than 13 hours. - Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/TNS