The gunman who killed two NYPD officers sitting in their patrol car Saturday before running into a Brooklyn subway station and killing himself had made "very anti-police" statements on social media before the shootings, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley wrote in the caption of an Instagram post containing a photo of a handgun: "I'm putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let's take 2 of theirs," officials said. He used the hashtags "Shootthepolice," "RIPErivGardner (sic)," and "RIPMikeBrown."
Police said he approached the passenger window of a marked police car and opened fire, striking Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in the head. The NYPD officers were on special patrol doing crime reduction in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Authorities said there is surveillance video of Brinsley walking up the street toward the squad car, but the shooting was off-camera.
"They were, quite simply, assassinated — targeted for their uniform," said Bratton.
Brinsley took off running as other officers pursued him down to a nearby subway station, where he shot himself in the head. A silver handgun was recovered at the scene, Bratton said.
"This may be my final post," he wrote in the Instagram post, put online a few hours before the shooting.
Bratton said they were trying to figure out why he killed the officers. Two city officials with direct knowledge of the case confirmed the posts to The Associated Press.
Police say Brinsley had at least 15 prior arrests in the last 10 years in Georgia and Ohio. The gun he used to kill the officers was bought in 1996 at a pawn shop in Georgia, but it's not clear who purchased it. Authorities are investigating how it came to be in Brinsley's possession.
Brinsley is described as a nomad, given history in Georgia, Ohio and Baltimore. Law enforcement sources say his 11-month-old child lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant with the child's mother. Brinsley's mother is also thought to live in Crown Heights.
Sources say that Brinsley's mother and sister both told investigators they were afraid of the man.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said Garner's family had no connection to the suspect and denounced the violence. Sharpton runs the National Action Network and is a talk-show host on MSNBC, which is owned by NBC 4 New York parent company NBCUniversal.
"Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases," Sharpton said. "We have stressed at every rally and march that anyone engaged in any violence is an enemy to the pursuit of justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown."
The shootings come as NYPD officers are being criticized for their tactics following the July death of Garner, who was stopped on Staten Island on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Amateur video captured an officer wrapping his arm around Garner's neck and wrestling him to the ground. Garner was heard gasping, "I can't breathe" before he lost consciousness and later died.
Demonstrators around the country have staged die-ins and other protests since a grand jury decided Dec. 3 not to indict the officer in Garner's death, a decision that closely followed a Missouri grand jury's refusal to indict a white officer in the fatal shooting of Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old. Bratton said they were investigating whether the suspect had attended any rallies or demonstrations.
Brinsley was black; the officers were Asian and Hispanic, police said.
Mayor de Blasio said the killing of the officers in the nation's largest department strikes at the heart of the city.
"Our city is in mourning. Our hearts are heavy," said de Blasio, who spoke softly with moist eyes. "It is an attack on all of us."
Brinsley went to the home of a former girlfriend in the Baltimore area to try to get back together with her, then shot and wounded her when she refused, a senior law enforcement official said. After that violence on Saturday, sources say Brinsley took a bus to New York City.
Police in Baltimore said they noticed Brinsley posting to the woman's Instagram account about a threat to New York officers. Baltimore-area officials tracked him to New York through the GPS coordinates of a cell phone, police there said. They sent a warning to the NYPD, which received it at around the time of the shooting, Bratton said. Sources say the suspect used his girlfriend's cellphone to make the Instagram post, then threw the phone away in Brooklyn.
The last shooting death of an NYPD officer came in December 2011, when 22-year veteran Peter Figoski was shot in the face while responding to a report of a break-in at a Brooklyn apartment. The triggerman, Lamont Pride, was convicted of murder and sentenced in 2013 to 45 years to life in prison.