Kevin Golden was in Virginia when he received the call from Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, the day before July 4th. His son was on the line.
“He said, ‘I was in Central Park, and I stepped on a bomb,’” Mr. Golden recalled.
Connor, a 19-year-old college student, would lose his left leg below the knee.
Not long after the blast, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio sent out a message on Twitter, warning against using “fireworks.” The police would later say the explosion may have been an “experiment” on the part of a “hobbyist.”
That explanation leaves Connor’s father unsatisfied.
“Who plays with this kind of volatile compound as a hobbyist and just leaves it laying in the park?” Mr. Golden said in his first lengthy interview on the issue. “If you wanted to experiment or play with explosives, to do something like that in one of the most popular places, one of the most watched places in the country — that would be the last place you’d go. You scratch your head and say, ‘That explanation doesn’t ring true.’”
The summer went on. No better theory, or possible suspect, would emerge. Connor would return to school at the University of Miami, receive a prosthetic leg, and do his best to return to his life, declining all requests to be interviewed.
Two months later, on Sept. 17, a bomb in a pressure cooker packed with shrapnel exploded under a Dumpster in Chelsea, and injured 31 people. An unexploded bomb was found blocks away. Earlier that day, another bomb went off in Seaside Park, N.J.
A suspect in all three incidents, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was arrested after a shootout with police officers in Linden, N.J.
Credit T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times
On the surface, there seemed to be obvious parallels. Connor’s father contacted the police in New York to inquire about a possible connection to the Central Park explosion.
“I had reached out to the detective,” he said. “Are there any other commonalities other than the timing of the two? In terms of the materials, the methodology?”
Detectives were already asking the same questions, said John J. Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism for the Police Department. “We have an open mind,” Mr. Miller said. “The people who are working on one are working on the other.”
Thus far, they have not found any hint of a link. “There are more contraindicators than there are indicators,” Mr. Miller said.
He described the Chelsea and New Jersey devices as improvised explosive devices rigged to go off with “a complex system of initiators.” The evidence collected in Central Park suggested something much more primitive. “Central Park wasn’t a device, but a substance,” he said.
He said the substance and other materials nearby suggested it was designed to explode with the actions of its user, and failed.
“We don’t believe it was left behind with the expectation that it would explode later,” Mr. Miller said. “We believe it was meant to go off when the guy put it down there and tried to make it go off. We don’t believe it was left as a booby trap for the next person who encountered it.”
The investigation is continuing. “No resource was denied in that case, whether electronic, technological or shoe leather,” Mr. Miller said.
Whatever happened that day, one grim truth remains: A device with no clear intent or label caused a far more serious injury than the bombs planted two months later.
Connor Golden and two friends had been climbing on the large rocks just inside the southeast entrance to Central Park. Connor stepped off, landing on a bag that exploded. The police cordoned off a large section of the park while the bomb squad searched for evidence.
Credit Andrew Kelly/Reuters
After the call came from Bellevue, Mr. Golden and his wife got in their car and hurried toward New York City. Along the way, another call came: A doctor said Connor’s left leg could not be saved, and that it had been amputated.
“We had to pull off to the side of the road” to regain composure, he said.
They arrived that afternoon. “The police had posted a guard there, outside his room, for 24 hours a day for a couple of days,” he said. “They said for our protection.”
Connor told them what had happened. “They were up in the rocks, just looking around,” Mr. Golden said. “They started coming down from the rocks, and that’s where the bomb was. He said it was a bag, and that’s about all he’s really able to describe. He said there was a little girl there in the vicinity of where it happened. It could have just as easily been that little girl.”
Connor was discharged and sent home by the end of July. As the new academic year approached at summer’s end, he made it clear he was ready to return, even if his father was hesitant.
“There’s no rush to complete school, that was my gut reaction,” Mr. Golden said. “The other voices, from Connor, my wife and a couple of different doctors was no, going back to school — it is soon, but that would be the best environment for him to recover.”
Connor arrived at Miami and was fitted for a prosthetic leg, uninterested in a cosmetic model that resembles a real leg.
“He’s like, ‘I don’t care’,” said Adam Finnieston, the prosthetist-orthotist who worked with him. “Mechanical and cool is what we’re going for. He’s not trying to hide anything. He’s owning it. He’s got a sports car version of a leg.”
In the coming weeks, the prosthetic will be fitted with sensors connected to the music Connor will listen to when he walks as a way of practicing good form, said Robert S. Gailey Jr., a physical therapist working with him.
“When he starts to fall back and pick up the habits we’re trying to discourage, the music warps,” he said. “He’s kind of got to go through the aches and pains of using a prosthetic. It’s like what any soldier has gone through.”
In New York, the police have offered a reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. Mr. Golden hopes the public has taken the episode seriously and not written it off.
“They think it’s a hobbyist, they might not take the trouble to help out,” he said.