ELIZABETH — Two men who found multiple explosive devices in a trash can near the midtown Elizabeth train station were key to the case — and lucky, authorities say.

"If these devices had gone off with a lot of people around it would have been much different," Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage said of the the two men who found the backpack.

One of five explosive devices detonated just about a mile from the home of the man authorities would ultimately identify as a suspect in this weekend's multiple blasts in New York and New Jersey — Ahmad Kham Rahami. It blew up as a bomb squad tried to disarm it.

Bollwage said the men found the backpack in a garbage can on Sunday night near the midtown Elizabeth train station, and took it because the thought there was something of value inside.

"They walked underneath the train trestle, saw the wires and pipes inside the bag inside the bag, dropped it immediately, walked around the corner to police headquarters, who contacted Union County Bomb Squad," Bollwage said.

Eventually State Police and the FBI were involved and an investigation began. Bollwage said two robots trying to diffuse the bomb cut a wire and blew it up. The other four devices discovered in Elizabeth were sent to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia.

Bollwage does not know the men, their names or their status.

"But they sure did the right thing and they have to be walking on the sides of angels because they carried the backpack about 1,000 feet before they dropped it."

The discovery of the bombs led to a shutdown of NJ Transit's Northeast Corridor and the North Jersey Coast Line as they were examined and the immediate area searched for additional devices.

Ahmad Kham Rahami was later named as the suspect in the case and a manhunt was began for the man the FBI wanted to talk to about the explosions in Seaside Park and inside a dumpster in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

At least two Linden officers were wounded in a shootout with Rahami, 28 — found sleeping in a bar doorway as law enforcement throughout the Tri-State area hunted him — but neither was seriously hurt, authorities said. Rahami himself seemed conscious, with his upper right arm bandaged and bloodied, as he was loaded into an ambulance in Linden. Authorities said he underwent surgery for a gunshot wound to the leg.

Sign Up For The WOBM Newsletter