Moments before he shot and killed two New York City police officers on a Brooklyn street on Saturday, Ismaaiyl Brinsley approached two men on the street and started a conversation. He had two questions, the men would later tell police, according to NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce. 

The first was their gang affiliation, Boyce noted at a news conference Sunday, and the second was a request for the men to follow him on Instagram. 

“And then he says ‘watch what I’m going to do,'” Boyce added.

Brinsley then walked past officers Wenjian Liu, 32, and Rafael Ramos, 40, who were sitting in a patrol car, before circling back, crossing the street and approaching the vehicle from behind, Boyce said. Moments later, he unloaded four shots into the car, striking one officer in the head and the other in the neck, Boyce said.

AD
AD

His final statement to two strangers on the street, however cryptic, would end up being the last time Brinsely declared his intent to harm others. But as investigators delve ever deeper into the 28-year-old’s troubled past, one thing has become increasingly clear: it wasn’t the first time he’d behaved violently. By sifting through that past, investigators hope to gain a better understanding of what prompted Brinsley to shoot his ex-girlfriend and kill two police officers.

At this point, less than 48 hours after the shooting occurred, Boyce said he was unwilling to speculate about Brinsley’s motivation or whether he’d latched onto recent demonstrations against police brutality to rationalize violent goals.

“Right now,” Boyce said, “he obviously committed this act against the girlfriend and it put him on this path.”

AD
AD

Boyce said investigators are still trying to determine if Brinsley participated in protests or where he spent the last week. Before he turned his gun on police, Brinsely appeared to express support for Michael Brown and Eric Garner using hashtags on social media.

What police do know is that Brinsley has long been a very troubled man, with a history of violence, arrests, strained familial relationships and possible mental health issues that may have gone undiagnosed. He was born in New York, went to high school in New Jersey and “because of problems in his background” had been traveling between Georgia, Baltimore and New York to stay with various relatives, Boyce said.

“He has Brooklyn roots, he’s got family here,” Boyce said, noting that he has a child in Brooklyn with a woman that he is estranged from. “All his troubles seem to be in the south, in Georgia, and in Ohio for a short time.”

AD
AD

Those troubles included 19 arrests, mostly in Georgia, and charges that ranged from shoplifting to weapons possession, for which he spent two years in prison, Boyce said.  He also had a habit of ranting online, making anti-government and anti-police statements, as well as expressions of frustration with himself and where he was in his life, Boyce noted.

“Brinsley attempted suicide in the past and attempted to hang himself a year ago,” Boyce said.

The detective said the information investigators have gleaned about Brinsely’s potential mental health issues came from interviews with his parents, an ex-girlfriend and two sisters, from whom he was estranged.

AD

“He may have been on meds later on in life, but not early in life,” Boyce said. “I have no reports of mental history yet from our investigation. That doesn’t mean it won’t come.”

AD

Boyce said that their investigation has not revealed any gang affiliations or links to extremist groups.

“We were told by family members that he’s never expressed any radicalization at all,” he said. “This is a Muslim family. His mother goes on to state, he had a very troubled childhood and was often violent. Mother expressed fear of him and she says she hasn’t seen him in one month.”

Boyce said investigators have recovered five videos connected to the New York shooting — two after, two before and one from the subway where he turned his gun on himself. He said police also have located 20 eyewitnesses and 36 earwitnesses.

What they don’t have, is a complete understanding of why Brinsley’s life suddenly veered dramatically off course.

“We are currently tracking his movements for the past week in New York and will continue to do so.”

AD
AD