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EXCLUSIVE: Brooklyn Bridge flag pranksters explained by fellow NYC climber

Posted at 2:06 AM, Jul 24, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-24 16:27:11-04

NEW YORK (PIX11) -- The people who replaced the American flags on the Brooklyn Bridge with bleached white versions of the Stars and Stripes this week are part of a subculture of thrill seekers.

That's what someone who's part of their daredevil society told PIX11 News in a one-on-one interview Wednesday.

"I'm a 17-year-old New York-based photographer," a bridge and building climber who's posted numerous photos of his exploits.

He said that climbing to great heights and taking pictures from vantage points there helps him to artistically express his love of New York.

"Just loving being here, been here all my life," the anonymous daredevil said.

He's a clean-cut, college-bound, motivated and expressive athlete. The soon-to-be high school senior did not want his face shown in this story, but by contrast, he's eager for the world to see his feet. He features them often in his high-altitude photos.

Most of the photos show buildings and streets below his feet at night, under cover of darkness, but occasionally his climbing shoes are seen in daylight far above rivers and highways.

He said that he's climbed bridge towers or tall buildings at least four times a week for the last seven months. That's when he climbed his first bridge. His many photos support the claim.

One of the pictures shows his silhouetted feet high above Times Square.

"I just kept looking at my iPhone as I passed the [security] guard," he said about his ability to reach the utility roof of a hotel on the square.

He said that he knows his hobby is trespassing at least, and could easily lead to far more serious charges. He's also aware that part of the reason for the illegality is that a person who wants to do harm, rather than just take pictures, could be enabled significantly from the vantage points the teen daredevil secures in his climbs.

"I wouldn't want to be a terrorist, or like a crazy person with like a machine gun up there, you know," he told PIX11 News. "That's exactly why, you know, there is security."

He was wearing a black shirt and black pants, his usual gear when he climbs, which aids in his going unnoticed on his mostly night excursions.

He also carried a black backpack in which he stores his photo equipment and other supplies. Somebody with a much more sinister intent could use the same type of luggage to carry firearms or explosives to a the high points to which the young man climbs.  Noting that, his experiences with security on bridges and other tall landmarks is concerning.

"The only security I've seen is the NYPD helicopter who does routine searches on all the bridges," he said, referring to the aircraft which regularly flies over the New York's East River bridges to assess their safety.

When they're not overhead, he said, he starts his climbs.

"If you play your cards right, they won't know you're up there."

"When you're driving, you're looking at the road," he said about motorists not noticing him scale bridges. He said the same for cyclists.

Pedestrians, according to the young climber, are typically nowhere in sight when he ascends. He said he very rarely sees police near the bridges' towers, which he climbs.

He had also planned to climb one of the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge overnight Monday into Tuesday morning, the same time as whoever removed the American flags on top of the landmark bridges' towers and replaced them with Old Glory flags bleached white. He ended up making other plans, though.

"I'm so glad I didn't go," he said in an interview from the bike lanes of the neighboring Manhattan Bridge. "People would have seen my [photo] posts, and thought it was me" who'd changed out the flags.

He does, however, believe he knows who is behind the Brooklyn Bridge flag switch.

"My gut tells me it's one person I know of," he said. "I haven't met him, but he's popular. I secretly know it's him."

He's not naming names, but says that the subculture of New York bridge climbers, while numbering in the hundreds, is small enough for everybody to know just about everyone else. All bridge scalers almost always go up in groups -- that's how he got photos of himself way above it all.

He believes he knows whose group carried out the flag switch, and says it is not any of the people online currently claiming to have done it.

"I think you shouldn't take credit for someone else's work," he told PIX11 News.

Finally, he had a warning for anyone considering scaling bridges and tall buildings, seeking the same thrill he does.  "I don't want a lot of people going up there," he said.

"It's really risky going up there. There's so many wrong things that could happen. Like if you're not an experienced climber of any kind, I really don't recommend you trying it. You could either get caught. Or die."