BROOKLYN (CN) — Details are still unfolding after at least 28 people were injured, five critically, in a Tuesday morning rush-hour shooting at a Brooklyn subway station.
The attack occurred at about 8:30 a.m. as a northbound R-train from Bay Ridge pulled into the 36th Street and Fourth Avenue subway station, located in Sunset Park. City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at a press conference hours later that the suspect had put on a gas mask and set off a smoke canister on the train then began shooting. Shots were fired on the train and on the station platform.
Law enforcement officials said the suspect, who is not in custody, still had the gas mask on as he fled. He was described as a Black man, about 5 feet 5 inches tall and 180 pounds, wearing a green construction vest and gray hooded sweatshirt. There is no evidence that the suspect acted in concert with any other person or on behalf of a group.
More than two dozen people were hospitalized after the incident with injuries from smoke inhalation, shrapnel and panic, according to reports from the New York City Fire Department, which responded to reports of smoke at the station. Though the investigators uncovered “several undetonated devices” at the scene, Police Commissioner Sewell said there is no evidence of active explosives on other trains.
Schools in the immediate area began sheltering in place as news of the shooting spread, according to the city’s education department, and New Yorkers were encouraged to steer clear of the area.
Law enforcement is investigating whether the suspect is an employee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“This is not being investigated as an act of terrorist at this time,” Sewell said.
She later clarified: “We do not know the motive at this time, but we’re not ruling anything out.”
As the investigation crept from afternoon into evening, both entrances to the 36th Street Station remained enclosed by police barricades, with officers positioned on each corner of the Fourth Avenue intersections. Television crews, reporters and bystanders continue to crowd the scene.
Tracy Sanders, a kitchen employee at the nearby Public School 24, spoke to Courthouse News after school was dismissed for the day. She said she saw students who would be in about the fourth or fifth grade crying in the lunchroom, and that she shared in their fear over the shooting even as she counts the community lucky for emerging through the day safely.
"I just hope they catch the guy," Sanders, 52, said. "It's too much guns, and too much stuff going on in the world today."
Sanders was trying to figure out how to get home amid train delays. Several people near the station were looking for shuttle buses in lieu of regular train service.
Victor, a 65-year-old who declined to give his last name, said the city seemed safer when he first moved here in his late teens. He said he has many friends in law enforcement, and supports New York City Mayor Eric Adams' plans to increase the police presence in the subway.
"It's not safe anymore," Victor said. "I think after the coronavirus everybody got crazy."
Students at Sunset Park High School passed the intersection holding a notice from school to their families. "During the shelter-in-place, students continued to engage in instruction and there were no disruptions to the school day," the note states.
The words to Frank Sinatra's "You Make Me Feel So Young" filled the air, meanwhile, sung into a megaphone by a man circling the scene in a Toyota convertible plastered with "A.J. is right" signs."
Though he laughed when asked for his name, the driver said his son is an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn. He confirmed that the initials on his car referred to the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who created the website Infowars and has said that the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a "hoax" involving child actors.
The Sandy Hook gunman, Adam Lanza, killed 28 people including 20 children between ages 6 and 7 years old. The families of those victims have brought multiple defamation suits against Jones.
At the scene in Sunset Park, the driver promoting Jones was wearing a fire department shirt but said he is unaffiliated with the FDNY and criticized firefighters for not having a larger presence after the shooting.
"I could pull over and tell you many things he's right about," he went on, referring to Jones.
"I believe that some of these things are not what they appear to be," the driver in Sunset Park told Courthouse News.
A representative for the Brooklyn district attorney said he had "no idea" how to respond to a question about the driver or his purported family connection to their office.
When news of the shooting broke this morning, New York Post reporter Craig McCarthy tweeted a video that showed passengers running out of the smoke-filled train and into the station.
Others shared graphic photos of injured subway riders lying on the station floor in pools of blood.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who has been working remotely after testing positive for Covid-19 earlier this week, released a statement Tuesday afternoon after being unable to attend a press conference.
"We will not allow New Yorkers to be terrorized even by a single individual," he said.
Emphasizing that he has been in constant communication with the city's fire, police and emergency management departments, Adams thanked first responders at the scene and local hospitals.
"You are what make New York the greatest city in the world, and I thank you for supporting your fellow New Yorkers," Adams said.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul urged city residents to take caution.
“This individual is still on the loose, this person is dangerous,” Hochul said Tuesday. “I’m committing the full resources of our state to fight this surge of crime, this insanity that is seizing our city, because we want to get back to normal.”
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