A New Hampshire man who helped subdue an agitated passenger who was making threats on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston earlier this month was honored this week for his heroism.
Jeff Neil was sitting in the row behind Francisco Torres when his violent outburst began. And when Torres began yelling that he was going to open the plane's emergency exit and jumped into the aisle, Neil got up as well. He didn't see that Torres had a broken spoon, which the suspect allegedly used to stab a flight attendant soon afterward.
Neil then took Torres down to the ground, and other passengers joined in to try and restrain the agitated passenger by cuffing his hands nd feet with zip ties.
Neil, a 52-year-old businessman from Exeter, New Hampshire, and a former bouncer in Boston years ago, was honored with a "Citizen Award" by the Exeter Police Department in recognition for his heroic actions aboard that flight. At a brief ceremony at the town offices, Exeter Police Chief Stephan Poulin honored Neil with a crystal plaque for his courageous decision to help subdue Torres.
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“This is when another passenger on the plane exemplified what it means to be both a hero and a leader. That person was Jeff Neil of Exeter, who was sitting with his wife and just wanted to get home,” Poulin said. "Mr. Neil’s actions that day are a reminder that everyday heroes live among us, here in Exeter and in communities all across the globe. They quietly go about their daily lives, but when a crisis unexpectedly presents itself and they feel compelled to act, they will respond without hesitation."
Neil attended the ceremony with his wife, Libby, along with members of the police and fire departments, other town officials and community members. He said he doesn't consider himself a hero, saying, "I truly was in the right place at the right time."
“This is my home. I’ve lived here for 15-plus years," he said. "This is where I raised my kids. Having the chief of police recognizing me, I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I didn’t expect more than two to three people here, including my wife and myself."
Neil works for a software company and volunteers as chairman of the board of directors for the Exeter Area YMCA.
As she reflected on his actions, Neil's wife said she wasn’t at all surprised that he jumped into action.
“We both knew that he would be getting up,” she recalled.
While she feared he would be injured, she knew that her husband was determined to take action. “It was scary, but I really commend everyone on the flight. They were calm,” said Libby Neil, who works as a paraprofessional at Exeter's Main Street School.