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Ten shot in Brooklyn subway attack, fueling chaos and a manhunt

NEW YORK — An attacker riding the subway in Brooklyn filled a rush-hour train with smoke before opening fire Tuesday morning, police said, shooting 10 people and leaving behind a chaotic scene, a sweeping manhunt and mounting questions about the violence.

The rampage sent more than two dozen people to hospitals, cut off train service and locked down area schools, rocking a city already shaken by the rise in gun violence since the pandemic began.

Police said Tuesday evening that after a daylong investigation, they had identified a person of interest but had no one in custody in connection with the attack. And officials said they still did not know what motivated the attacker.

“Clearly, this individual boarded the train and was intent on violence," Keechant L. Sewell, the New York police commissioner, said during a news briefing.

At least 29 people connected to the incident were treated at hospitals Tuesday, including gunshot victims as well as people who suffered smoke inhalation or were hurt during the panicked rush out of the station, according to officials at three Brooklyn hospitals.

Fire officials said 10 people were struck by gunfire, and five of them were in critical but stable condition. None of the injuries were life-threatening, Sewell said.

Police on Tuesday offered a grim narrative of the shooting, describing how a routine morning commute gave way to bloodshed and terror.

Police said at least 29 people were injured, 10 of them by gunfire, after a man opened fire in a rush-hour subway train in Brooklyn on April 12. (Video: Alden Nussar, Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

An N train bound for Manhattan was approaching the 36th Street Station in Brooklyn around 8:24 a.m. when a man seated in the back corner of the second car opened two smoke grenades and tossed them onto the subway floor, according to police officials.

The suspected attacker, Sewell said during a midday briefing, slipped on a gas mask first.

Smoke began to fill the subway car, police said. The man then pulled out a Glock 9mm handgun and fired nearly three dozen rounds, James W. Essig, chief of detectives for the New York police, said at a news briefing early Tuesday evening.

The man fired at least 33 times, hitting 10 people, Essig said. Police said they later found 33 discharged shell casings, along with the two used smoke grenades, two undetonated smoke grenades, a hatchet, a liquid that appeared to be gasoline and a bag with fireworks.

They also found a key for a U-Haul, Essig said. They later recovered a U-Haul van in Brooklyn, he said.

Police said they were told the attacker was a heavyset dark-skinned man with a neon vest and a gray sweatshirt. They pleaded with the public for help in finding him, offering a $50,000 reward.

During the midday briefing, Sewell said the shooting was not being investigated as an act of terrorism, though she later acknowledged authorities did not know what could have motivated the violence and were “not ruling anything out.”

Mayor Eric Adams (D), a former New York police captain who has emphasized public safety, said during a television appearance Tuesday afternoon that it was “premature” to rule out terrorism.

“This is terror,” said Adams, who is isolating after testing positive for covid-19 on Sunday, during an interview on CNN. “Someone attempted to terrorize our system. They brought in what appears to be some form of smoke device, they discharged a weapon. So I don’t want to be premature in identifying if this was or was not.”

The Joint Terrorism Task Force involving the FBI and NYPD is “fully engaged” in investigating the subway shooting in Brooklyn, the head of the bureau’s New York field office said Tuesday, though he did not indicate that the matter was being considered as an act of terrorism.

Michael Driscoll, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said the investigation was “still very much in its early stages.” He said he expected investigators would be collecting evidence “for some time.”

During another interview, Adams pointed to a possible problem for the manhunt, telling WCBS 880 radio that there was “some form of malfunction with the camera system” at the station where the shooting took place. Adams said officials were still investigating the issue and trying to determine if the problem was with just one camera or throughout the station.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city’s subways, announced last fall that security cameras had been added to all 472 subway stations in the city. A spokesman for the authority did not respond to a request for comment about Adams’s remarks.

Tuesday evening, police said 62-year-old Frank R. James was the person of interest in the case. They were careful about not describing him as a suspect in the case, repeatedly referring to him as a person of interest.

“We are endeavoring to locate him to determine his connection to the subway shooting, if any," Essig said.

James rented the U-Haul in Philadelphia, Essig said, and the key for that van was found at the crime scene. “We don’t know right now if Mr. James has any connection to the subway," Essig said. “That’s still under investigation.”

Speaking at an event Tuesday afternoon in Iowa, President Biden said he and his wife were praying for those wounded “and all those touched by that trauma.”

Biden, who a day earlier held a White House event focused on gun violence, offered thanks to first responders as well as to the civilians who “didn’t hesitate to help their fellow passengers and try to shield them.” He said his team has been in touch with Adams and Sewell and that federal officials were “working closely with the NYPD on the ground.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) condemned the shooter, saying during a news briefing that the attacker targeted people living their everyday lives.

“This was disrupted, brutally disrupted, by an individual so coldhearted and depraved of heart that they had no caring about the individuals they assaulted as they went about their daily lives,” Hochul said.

The shooting comes as New York and other cities across the country have struggled to confront a rise in deadly violence since the pandemic began. Adams has focused on violent crime during his campaign and since taking office, a message that Biden embraced during a visit earlier this year to New York.

In Brooklyn, the number of injured victims rose steadily Tuesday, as hospitals confirmed they had treated more patients. There were 21 people treated at New York University’s Langone Hospital, spokeswoman Lacy Scarmana said, 10 of them discharged by midafternoon and 11 others in stable condition.

Five more were treated at Maimonides Medical Center, three of them suffering from smoke inhalation and two with gunshot wounds, said Suzanne Tammaro, a hospital spokeswoman. The gunshot victims were in stable condition and would be admitted to the hospital, she said, while those with smoke inhalation would be treated and released.

Three more patients were taken to New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, one with a gunshot injury, another with a fracture and a third “non-trauma-related,” according to a statement from Tony Chau, a hospital spokesman. All three patients are in stable condition.

Police said there were 23 people injured in total, a lower number than reported by local hospitals.

The shooting left behind a bloodied scene in the subway station and tensions reverberating outward through Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, which has long been a hub for working-class immigrant communities.

The Fourth Avenue subway station is at the core of the neighborhood’s sizable Latin American community, as well as a major transfer station for commuters across Brooklyn.

Konrad Aderer, 53, was heading down the steps into the 36th Street Station on Tuesday morning, texting his wife while heading to a Manhattan-bound train, when he saw a man with bloody legs appear. The man warned commuters about the danger below, Aderer said in an interview.

“He said people were injured and bleeding,” Aderer said.

Juliana Fonda, a broadcast engineer at WNYC, recalled riding the train and hearing gunshots in the car directly behind hers.

Passengers in that car began pounding on the locked door of hers, “trying to get away from something that was happening,” Fonda said while recounting her experience on WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show” on Tuesday morning. “None of us in the front of the train knew what was going on, but people were pounding and looking behind them running and trying to get on the train.”

When they got to 36th Street, she said, the doors opened, revealing smoke on the platform and people on the ground who had “obviously been shot,” Fonda said. “It was terrifying."

Schools around the area were placed on lockdowns after the shooting, with educators advised to lock their doors and not permit outside visitors.

“Out of an abundance of caution and for the safety of our students we have placed all schools in the area in a shelter-in-place,” New York Schools Chancellor David C. Banks said in a statement Tuesday morning.

At midday, students at Sunset Park High School banged on classroom windows as reporters and police walked past, yelling that they had no idea when they would be released from lockdown. Some made makeshift signs and taped them to the window: “Have hope” and “Make NYC safe again.”

The Brooklyn Nets were hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers in an NBA game Tuesday night, and the franchise said fans should “expect an increased security presence" there.

Derek French, a freelance photographer commuting to his WeWork office, said he encountered increasingly dense smoke as he approached the station’s platform Tuesday morning. Then he saw it: People scattered across the ground, with wounds and visible ribbons of blood.

French, who trained with the Red Cross, used someone’s jacket to place makeshift tourniquets on the wounded. Some of the people he helped, French said, looked young enough to be in high school, and they described seeing the gunman sitting at the end of the train car.

“Even though it was chaotic,” French said of the scene on the subway platform, “it seemed calm because of the people who rendered aid to the victims. … Even though it was a horrific event, everyone was doing so much in that one moment.”

Berman reported from Washington D.C. and Bellware from Chicago. Lila Hassan in New York and Holly Bailey, Lateshia Beachum, Hannah Knowles, Meryl Kornfield, Felicia Sonmez and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.