CHICAGO (CBS) — When Chicago Fire Battalion Chief Michael Weilgat arrived at work on Thursday, July 18, he expected it would be just like any other day – and at the start of the day, it was.
It turned out that he came across the scene of a brutal attack on a recent DePaul University graduate in the Lincoln Park neighborhood – and he believes his lights and sirens as he headed up Halsted Street on an earlier call were what scared the attacker off.
“I went through my normal work day without any serious or unusual incidents,” Weilgat told CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot for a story that CBS 2 is the first to report. “Unbeknownst to me, that was about to change and by the end of my shift I would be reminded that there is a higher power that watches over and protects all of us.”
Wielgat, a 30-year department veteran, had responded to a false alarm at a building on Aldine Avenue in East Lakeview. He was heading back to the firehouse when he saw a man trying to flag him down near the three-way intersection of Lincoln and Fullerton avenues and Halsted Street.
Weilgat pulled over next to the man, who said there was somebody lying on the side of the road. Initially, Weilgat guessed that maybe it was someone who was drinking and had passed out – but he soon discovered the situation was far more dire and gruesome.
“I left my vehicle and approached the person,” Weilgat said. “As I got closer I could see it was a young female in a pool of blood.”
The young woman was walking down the street early that morning when she was attacked. Her face and neck were slashed, and police said she was nearly killed. Investigators believe her attacker was trying to sexually assault her.
Weilgat immediately got on his radio and called for help. He saw Engine Co. 55 just two blocks away – it had just returned from the false alarm. They started heading his way.
At this point, he was the only first responder on the scene. He knelt down next to the woman.
“I noticed that her neck was sliced open in two places – one on each side of the neck right where each of the two internal carotid arteries are located which supply the oxygenated blood to the brain,” Weilgat said. “I reached down and grabbed her wrist feeling a rapid pulse and breathing. I asked her what her name was and to see if she could hear me.”
In those few seconds, firefighter/paramedic equipped Engine Co. 55 arrived. Immediately behind the engine, coming from the same false alarm that Weilgat had just left, was Ambulance 6.
First responders would to continue treatment and transport the woman to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.
“As always our firefighters, EMT’s, and paramedics went above and beyond to do everything they could to save her,” he said.
The woman’s purse and wallet were still at the scene. They were in a pool of blood. Wielgat handed her ID to a paramedic, who gave it to an officer.
“Although there was a lot of blood on the street, it seemed less than if her artery was cut,” Weilgat said. “After 30 years on the fire service, you experience many very traumatic events. I had a very deep feeling that she was a very lucky girl and going to make it.”
An officer pointed out there was a trail of blood from the victim, leading to the alley.
“When I turned into the alley, immediately around from the sidewalk was the spot, again pooled in blood and a cell phone. The cell phone indicated to me, the attack wasn’t a robbery but he had other intentions,” Weilgat said. “As I stood there a few seconds, I thought about my 24-year-old daughter and how brutal of an attack this was.”
Wielgat said he then stared at the spot where the attack happened, then looked up at the street.
“Approximately 30 feet away from that location of the attack was where I drove just a few minutes prior, approaching at a high rate of speed heading toward the fire in a high-rise with my lights and sirens blaring slowing as I got closer to the intersection to stop for traffic,” he said. “My entire body broke out with the goosebumps and a chilling sensation excited my nerves. It was a deep sensation I had never felt before. That’s when I realized that I may have scared the attacker off.”
Wielgat says he felt it was his responsibility to share the string of events with the young woman’s family. He says he met with her mother and told her that her daughter has a very important purpose in life.
“A higher power intervened and many things happened and brought many people together to make sure she could serve that purpose one day,” Weilgat said. “She is a very special woman.”
CBS 2 last week also spoke to the Good Samaritan who first found the victim and called police.
Syed Subhan was driving north on Halsted Street around 3:30 a.m. on July 18, when he saw a woman lying motionless on the ground. Like Weilgat, Subhan initially thought the woman had been hit by a car.
“Cops came in less than five minutes, I was there for about two and a half hours,” he said.
Subhan did not leave her side.
“I did not want to leave her helpless,” he said.
Last week, police said the woman had been upgraded to serious condition at Advocate Illinois Masonic.
Meanwhile, six days after the attack, police released surveillance video of a suspect, which they say shows him looking for cars to steal the day before the attack. The man is shown rolling up on a bicycle to 353 N. Desplaines St. in the Fulton River District and going through a garage before eventually making off with a car.
Police said the suspect has “similar demographics” to the suspect in the knife attack.
The stolen vehicle, a white Suzuki Vitara, was found a day or two after the attack, torched in a field near 96th and Dobson.
Adam Bramwell, 32, has been named as a suspect in a Lincoln Park carjacking five days before the knife attack. Sources have told CBS 2’s Brad Edwards that Bramwell also is a person of interest in the knife attack.
Sources said Bramwell is considered extremely dangerous.
Bramwell recently was paroled from prison. He was serving a sentence through 2021, but he was paroled for good behavior after only having to serve half of his sentence for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. He is now considered a fugitive of his mandatory supervised release.
Anyone who sees Bramwell should call 911 immediately.
Anyone with information on Bramwell’s whereabouts is asked to call Area Central detectives at (312) 747-8380.