Bernhard Hugo Goetz, the confessed subway gunman who has crime-weary New Yorkers rallying to his defense, was a man increasingly outraged by city decay and crime and frustrated by his own failed efforts to stop the trend, according to neighbors.
Goetz's apartment is on a block populated by drug dealers, pickpockets and street hustlers. Trash is strewn about dirty sidewalks, discount racks stand in front of fading businesses and peeling paint scars aging apartment buildings.
Officer Robert Rochelein, who walks a beat in the 14th Street area, said the street has become "a little more dangerous than most."
'People Are Afraid'
"These people are afraid to walk outside after 7 or 8 o'clock at night," the superintendent in Goetz's building, Agustin Barquet, 48, said. "It has gotten worse."
Three days before Christmas, Goetz was riding the subway when four teen-agers sought $5 from him. Goetz pulled out a gun and shot the four. One of the youths will be paralyzed from his wounds.
Word of the act shocked neighbors, who described Goetz, 37, as quiet, courteous, personable--even gentle.
They said Goetz had kept to himself but became active in a neighborhood anti-crime group after three muggers jumped him as he left a subway station in January, 1981, and grabbed electronics equipment worth $800 to $1,000 he was carrying.
Suffered Torn Cartilage
One of the muggers knocked him down and pushed him into a plate-glass window. Goetz suffered torn cartilage in his chest during the attack.
Police arrested one of the suspects, a 16-year-old. The suspect pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, was sentenced to six months in jail and served four months.
After the ordeal, Goetz seemed "more untouchable, more defensive," said Scott Sedita, a neighbor. "He had a feeling of hopelessness of crime all around him."
Goetz collected signatures from tenants demanding more police protection and brought them to the Police Department and City Hall, but nothing came of his efforts, neighbors said.
Denied a Gun License
Goetz applied for a gun license but it was denied because he failed to show sufficient need. He testified that he often carried large sums of money to buy electronics equipment for his business.
Somehow he acquired a revolver and once showed it to four children whom he befriended in his building.
The children's father, Allan Horwitz, 37, said he was so convinced of Goetz's fine character that "if Bernie got out of jail tomorrow, I would have no problem having him play with my children."
Goetz was born in the borough of Queens, the son of Bernhard Sr., a Lutheran, and Gertrude Goetz, a Jew, who fled their native Germany in the 1930s when Adolf Hitler came to power.
Moved to Upstate N.Y.
The family moved from Queens to Redhook in upstate New York when Goetz was 3, then moved again a few miles away to the small town of Rhinebeck, where the elder Goetz ran a dairy and a bookbinding business.
In 1960, when Goetz was 13 years old, his father was indicted for allegedly molesting two 15-year-old boys at the family farm. He was convicted of eight counts and sentenced to six months in jail.
He appealed and a new trial was ordered, at which point the elder Goetz agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of disorderly conduct.
A cousin, Ludwig Goetz Jr., told the New York Times that the elder Goetz had done nothing wrong and that the boys had lied. He said the local prosecutor filed the charges because he was biased against Goetz, who was an opponent of the prosecutor's brother for a seat on the local school board.
Parents Have Died
His parents have died, and Goetz is in line for an inheritance along with his brother and two sisters.
Prosecutors have said the shootings were premeditated and Goetz intended to kill the teen-agers, but friends and family members insist he was a calm, responsible man who would not have fired the gun unless he was provoked.
As thousands of New Yorkers applauded Goetz's actions, he has turned down an anonymous offer of $50,000, which would gain his release from Rikers Island jail.
One of Goetz's sisters said he "acted in self-defense" and "has become involved in a tragic situation." She said her brother told her on the phone that he shot the four youths "because he was afraid."