A gunman in a gas mask and a construction vest set off a smoke canister on a rush-hour subway train in Brooklyn and shot at least 10 people Tuesday, authorities said. Police were scouring the city for the shooter and found a rental van possibly connected to the violence.
A scene of horror unfolded as frightened commuters ran from the train as others limped out of it. At least one rider collapsed on the platform.
“My subway door opened into calamity. It was smoke and blood and people screaming,” eyewitness Sam Carcamo told radio station 1010 WINS. Smoke poured out of the train car as the door opened, he added.
Five people were in critical condition but expected to survive. At least 29 in all were treated at hospitals for gunshot wounds, smoke inhalation and other conditions.
The gunfire erupted on a train that pulled into a station in the Sunset Park neighborhood, about a 15-minute ride from Manhattan and predominantly home to Hispanic and Asian communities.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said the attack was not being investigated as terrorism, but that she was “not ruling out anything.” The shooter’s motive was unknown.
Authorities gave officers a photo they believed to depict the gunman, and the Arizona license plate number of a U-Haul van to look out for, two law enforcement officials said. By early evening, police found a matching, unoccupied U-Haul van in Brooklyn, one of the officials said.
Police were closing off a street about four miles from the shooting scene and clearing nearby businesses while awaiting a bomb squad and the highly specialized emergency services unit.
Investigators found a credit card at the scene of Tuesday’s shooting that led them to identify a person of interest, one of the law enforcement officials said, adding that the credit card was used to rent the U-Haul van that police located in Brooklyn. The two officials were not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
Investigators recovered a handgun at the scene, along with multiple smoke devices and other items they are analyzing, said the officials. They said the suspect is believed to have had at least two extended magazines.
Investigators believe the weapon jammed, preventing the suspect from continuing to fire, the officials said. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has completed an urgent trace to identify the gun’s manufacturer, seller and initial owner.
The attack unnerved a city on guard about a rise in gun violence and the ever-present threat of terrorism. It left some New Yorkers jittery about riding the nation’s busiest subway system and prompted officials to increase policing at transportation hubs from Philadelphia to Connecticut.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced last fall that it had put security cameras in all 472 subway stations citywide, saying they would put criminals on an “express track to justice.” But at the station where the train arrived, the cameras apparently malfunctioned.
MTA system chief Janno Lieber told TV interviewers he didn’t know why the cameras weren’t working. But he said police had “a lot of different options” from cameras elsewhere on the subway line to get a glimpse of the shooter.
One rider’s video, shot through a closed door between subway cars, shows a person in a hooded sweatshirt raising an arm and pointing at something as five bangs sound. In another video, smoke and people pour out of a subway car, some limping.
“Someone call 911!” a person shouts.
Other video and photos from the scene show people tending to bloodied passengers lying on the platform — some amid what appear to be small puddles of blood — and another person on the floor of a subway car.
Rider Juliana Fonda, a broadcast engineer at WNYC-FM, told its news site Gothamist that passengers from the car behind hers started banging on the connecting door.
“There was a lot of loud pops, and there was smoke in the other car,” she said. “And people were trying to get in and they couldn’t, they were pounding on the door to get into our car.”
As police searched for the shooter, Gov. Kathy Hochul warned New Yorkers to be vigilant.
“This individual is still on the loose. This person is dangerous,” the Democrat said at a news conference just after noon. “This is an active shooter situation right now in the city of New York.”
Fire and police officials had responded to reports of an explosion, but Sewell said at the press conference that there were no known explosive devices. Multiple smoke devices were found on the scene, mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy said.
After people streamed out of the train, quick-thinking transit workers ushered passengers to another train across the platform for safety, Lieber, the MTA chairman, noted.
High school student John Butsikaris was riding the other train when he saw a conductor urging everyone to get in. He thought it might be a mundane problem until the next stop, when he heard screams for medical attention and his train was evacuated.
“I’m definitely shook,” the 15-year-old told The Associated Press. “Even though I didn’t see what happened, I’m still scared, because it was like a few feet away from me, what happened.”
No transit workers were physically hurt, according to their union.
In Menlo, Iowa, President Joe Biden praised “the first responders who jumped in action, including civilians, civilians, who didn’t hesitate to help their fellow passengers and tried to shield them.”
Adams, who is isolating following a positive COVID-19 test on Sunday, said in a video statement that the city “will not allow New Yorkers to be terrorized, even by a single individual.”
New York City has faced a spate of shootings and high-profile bloodshed in recent months, including on the city’s subways. One of the most shocking was in January when a woman was pushed to her death in front of a train by a stranger.
Adams, a Democrat a little over 100 days into his term, has made cracking down on crime — especially on the subways — a focus of his early administration, pledging to send more police officers into stations and platforms for regular patrols. It wasn’t immediately clear whether officers were already inside the station when the shootings occurred.
Danny Mastrogiorgio of Brooklyn had just dropped his son off at school when he saw a crush of panicked passengers, some wounded, running up the stairway at the 25th Street station. At least two had visible leg injuries, he said.
“It was insane,” he told the AP. “No one knew exactly what was going on.”
Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo in Washington and Michelle L. Price, Jennifer Peltz and Jim Mustian in New York contributed to this report.