"I thought it might turn into something big, but 16 months went past and then I thought it might be like a lead or an anonymous tip that didn't pan out," Morgenstern said yesterday from his hotel in New York.
Morgenstern, a computer buff who lives in a Camden County suburb with his parents and now works as a sales manager at a different Circuit City store, said he called the police after pondering the videotape overnight.
Federal authorities asked him to keep quiet about the video and the customers, he said, and he heard nothing further until he saw television news reports about the arrests of the six terror suspects, including four who lived in Cherry Hill.
"I was flipping through the channels and saw the breaking news . . .," he said. "It was still a developing story and they hadn't divulged the names of the people arrested. I had a feeling in my gut it was related to me," said Morgenstern, who also helps with his father's computer consulting business.
A friend phoned him later and convinced him that he was the video store clerk who was being called a hero. Circuit City and the U.S. Attorney's Office yesterday confirmed that he was the terror tipster.
Federal authorities said the six suspects were arrested as they were about to buy weapons for a planned attack on Fort Dix soldiers. All are jailed without bail.
Morgenstern said he often transferred videotapes to DVDs and was accustomed to family, travel and wedding pictures.
"We have to watch the tapes to make sure the quality of the video and audio are right," he said. "I was working on a few transfers and glanced up and saw the disturbing images.
"My immediate reaction was alarm," he said.
He worried about invading the customers' privacy.
"I was considering whether or not this was really a threat, or something serious," said Morgenstern.
He talked to his parents that night in January 2006. The next morning, he told his store manager he wanted to call the police.
"You have to err on the side of caution," said his father, Irwin Morgenstern. "It wasn't up to us to make a judgment, but we thought it was up to authorities to do the rest."
Morgenstern made a copy of the video for federal authorities, who instructed him to treat his customers like anybody else when they returned for their DVD.
What would happen to the men? he wondered.
"There was nothing suspicious about them. They looked like normal people. They were not nervous," he said.
Since the arrests, he said, he has received letters from many civilians and soldiers thanking him for coming forward. The letters were sent to Circuit City and forwarded to him.
"The greatest feeling is how many people I touched and how grateful people were," he said. "One was from a lady in New Mexico whose son was heading to Fort Dix to go to Iraq."
He brushes aside the FBI news conference praise.
"I don't feel like a hero," he said. "I feel like I did the right thing, but I think the real heroes are the men and women overseas and the people in our law enforcement who handled the situation."
Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writer Jeff Gelles contributed to this article, which also contains information from the Associated Press.