Prosecutor: ‘Not true’ that bystanders stood by, shot video during rape on Pennsylvania train

DELAWARE COUNTY, Pa. — A narrative pushed by authorities that passengers callously stood by as a man raped a woman on a suburban Philadelphia train earlier this month is false, the prosecutor handling the case said at a news conference last week.

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Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said Thursday that it was “simply not true” that people “watched this transpire and took videos of it for their own gratification.”

“It did not happen,” he said, blaming the media and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority officials for the misinformation. “We have a security video from SEPTA that shows that was not the true narrative.”

The incident happened around 10 p.m. on Oct. 13 on SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Citing authorities, the newspaper reported that the rape ended after a SEPTA employee called 911.

>> Related: Woman raped on Philadelphia train; bystanders ‘did nothing,’ police say

After the incident, Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt told the Inquirer that “There (were) a lot of people in my opinion that should have intervened. Somebody should have done something.”

He added that the incident “speaks to where we are in society and who would allow something like that to take place.”

However, Stollsteimer highlighted Thursday that the rape occurred on a “sparsely crowded” train as it was moving.

“This is an incident that’s happening over time, so people are getting in and out of the … (train) car,” he said. “They may not have all been aware at any time what had happened previously. … It’s not necessarily true that any one person who was getting on the train is going to know exactly what’s going on, which is why we’re trying to gather everyone’s evidence if they’re a witness to this so that we can put together a timeline and a narrative that shows the whole.”

He urged witnesses to come forward and stressed that they could not face charges for failing to intervene. Bernhardt, who appeared beside Stollsteimer on Thursday, said earlier this month that bystanders could be criminally charged if they recorded the attack and failed to intervene, according to The New York Times. At the time, he declined to speculate on the exact charges a person could face.

“You are under no criminal obligation to intervene and put yourself at risk to stop a violent crime or any other crime from occurring,” Stollsteimer said Thursday. “That is the opposite of what we try to do in law enforcement. We’re trying to encourage witnesses to come forward to help us stop criminals.”

The district attorney added that officials believe two people filmed portions of the train attack on their phones, one of whom has since turned over footage to police.

“One of those people probably was the one who made the anonymous tip that alerted the SEPTA police department,” he said.

After Thursday’s news conference, Bernhardt told the Times that he stood by his earlier comments.

“What I committed to at the time, and commit to now, is that there were people getting in and getting off that I thought could have intervened and done something,” he said, according to the newspaper. “Now that doesn’t mean they were sitting there filming it, but as the district attorney said, there were plenty of people getting on and off that witnessed it. Now what they witnessed or what they thought, I don’t know, because we haven’t been able to speak with them.”

In an arrest affidavit obtained by The Associated Press, authorities said Fiston Ngoy, 35, boarded the train a short while after the victim, who he sat next to. Over the next 40 minutes, officials said he repeatedly tried to grope the woman. Surveillance video showed the victim pushing him away several times, according to the AP.

He was arrested on charges including rape and indecent assault, according to the Inquirer.