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Like many people riding the subway that night, 79-year-old Yusuf Hizel was surrounded and yet alone.

It was Saturday, about 8:30 p.m. on the Bloor-Danforth train. Two men plunked down beside him while the train cruised eastbound.

One asked for change. Mr. Hizel said he didn't have any to give. The other made the same request.

Then, they attacked.

"They just grabbed me and took my wallet out from my pocket," Mr. Hizel told City-TV Monday. "I screamed to the passengers but they ignored it. The train was almost half full."

The news comes as a man bled to death on a New York City street this weekend after intervening in a domestic dispute - a Good Samaritan struck down for trying to help. Surveillance footage shows at least seven people walked by his dead body before someone finally flipped him over to reveal stab wounds.

They're eerie examples of the so-called bystander effect, puzzled over by social psychologists who coined the term after the infamous death of Kitty Genovese. The New York woman was fatally stabbed near her home in March, 1964. She, too, died alone in a pool of blood and no one heeded her desperate cries for help.

While Mr. Hizel was more fortunate to have only suffered a scratch to his nose, his story, too, asks the age-old question: Why don't we go out of our way to help people in distress?

For his part, the Toronto man didn't wait around for help. He tried to reach for the yellow emergency bar meant to aid passengers in distress, but wasn't able to reach it.

And when the train pulled into Chester station, he bounded out of the subway car and chased his attackers, making it fairly far on his 79-year-old legs before he couldn't go any further.

"He's in excellent shape," said Toronto Police spokesperson, Constable Tony Vella, who said Mr. Hizel's wallet was later found on Danforth Avenue and returned.

Police said they're not sure how many people were on that train and witnessed the attack. What they do know is that nobody helped, despite the man's screams.

While they don't encourage bystanders to physically intervene "at least call the police, tell the collector, rather than do nothing," Constable Vella said.

It's a sentiment echoed by Toronto Transit Commission spokesman Brad Ross, who expressed disgust at the whole situation.

"It's quite disturbing that these thugs would rob a 79-year-old man on a subway train," he said. While he couldn't speculate on why no one came to Mr. Hizel's rescue, there are myriad reasons people hear cries for help but don't intervene.

Sometimes it's unclear whether their help is needed or if they can give the appropriate help, Constable Vella said. Some worry they might get hurt too.

Others don't know exactly what will happen if they press the yellow bar on the subway train - will it set off a deafening alarm? Keep the car halted in the station, and putting a delay on everyone's Saturday night plans?

"Perhaps people think there is a penalty for misuse," Mr. Ross said, adding that there may be a need for an education campaign about how the yellow bar on the subway works. For example, the alarm goes off in a dispatch centre, not the subway car. The car will also not stop between stations but will pull into the next one. "If those thugs felt trapped in the train, you don't know what they may or may not do."

Just a day before Mr. Hizel was mugged, police asked the public to help them identify a suspect who took an iPhone from a girl on an eastbound subway train leaving Dundas West Station.

Police are now calling for the public's help identifying the suspects in this more recent subway mugging. They plan to release video footage from the subway car in the coming days.

With a report from The Associated Press