Four people were shot and dozens were arrested last night after rowdy crowds swarmed through Midtown, storming businesses, scaring tourists and harassing pedestrians through a mile-long stretch of midtown.
Three men and a woman were arrested later Monday on gang assault charges related to one of the shootings, police said. It wasn't clear whether anyone who fired shots was among those arrested. Another 23 were issued summons for disorderly conduct or were given juvenile reports and released.
A law enforcement source told NBCNewYork the violence was part of a gang initiation night, that has become an annual Easter tradition. The source says the Auto Show at the Javits Center also draws gang members to the area. The NYPD has increased the number of patrol officers in Times Square and surrounding neighborhoods on Easter Sunday and overnight into Monday since 2008.
The source says that shortly after midnight, a group of Manhattan gang members walking northbound on Seventh Ave. encountered a group of Bronx gang members walking southbound. Words were exchanged, there was some shoving, and then shooting, according to a source close to the investigation.
It is unclear whether a shooting victim who was discovered at 41st Street and Eighth Avenue was actually shot uptown where a second victim was shot at 51st and Seventh Avenue.
"This was all definitely involving gangs, some new members and some being initiated," said one investigator.
The high number of arrests came as a result of cops mobilizing overnight, locking the area down by closing streets and circling the rowdy groups, law-enforcement sources said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg described the night's events as "wilding," using a word created by the media during the notorious 1989 rape of the woman known as the Central Park jogger. Five men were charged with gang-raping her, but their convictions were thrown out in 2002.
"We loaded the area up with police, but they can't be everywhere," he said. "We're not going to tolerate it. ... This is just a bunch of people who shouldn't be on the streets if they behave this way, and we're not going to stand for it."
The fracas rattled businesses near busy districts in Herald Square, as well as nearby Times Square, where an armed street hustler was shot dead by police after exchanging gunfire on the street in December.
"You know it's the cost of doing business," said Angus McIndoe, owner of the restaurant bearing his name next to Broadway theaters. "It's not the first time there has been nutty activity in Times Square."
"We need to get in front of this growing epidemic before we find ourselves reliving the bad old days of the 1970s," Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said.
There were several reports of shootings in the area -- a man was shot in the ankle around midnight near Eighth Avenue and 41st Street. A woman was shot, possibly with a BB gun at Seventh Avenue and 51st Street. And about two hours later, two women were hit by bullets -- one was struck in the arm and another in the leg -- at Seventh Avenue and 34th Street.
"It was scary to come out the train and see all the running around by tourists. Kids being subdued. It looked like a real high-level riot out there," one witness said.
But many tourists in the area said Monday they weren't too concerned.
"I think compared to other cities, this is a pretty safe place," said Kai Tienmann, of Berlin, visiting with his son. "Of course anywhere in a safe city, can happen something like this. So much people here. A lot of police, also a lot of police cameras."
Twenty-eight-year-old Joseph Markey from Dublin said he wasn't worried.
"I'm from Dublin; there are a lot of shootings there," He said. "All the big cities have that problem."