The 31-year-old man suspected of opening fire in Times Square made his initial virtual court appearance Thursday following his capture at a Florida McDonald's, telling the judge he didn't know why he was arrested and that he wasn't even in New York at the time of the incident.
Farrakhan Muhammad was told by the judge that he is facing attempted murder charges in New York for the shooting that wounded a 4-year-old girl and two other bystanders. While in jail, Muhammad apparently tried to claim he was not the shooter.
"They said, 'I had a warrant.' I said I don't know what you are talking about," he is heard saying on a video by the Broward County Sheriff's Office. He also said in an interview that he did not know anything about the shooting and had been in New Jersey at the time.
“I left New York a few days ago ... I was in (New) Jersey in a hotel," Muhammad told a local news outlet. He said he went to Florida to live with his girlfriend's relatives after being evicted.
Muhammad was given the normal options for extradition: he could face formal extradition or wave his right. The judge also told him he could talk to an attorney to help him make the decision and Muhammad seemed to take that advice saying he would like an attorney appointed to help him with the extradition process. Muhammad will remain behind bars, and is due back in Florida court May 20 to discuss extradition.
Also appearing in court Thursday was Muhammad's girlfriend, Kristine Vergara , whosaid she lives in Jacksonville and asked for a court-appointed attorney. Her bail was set at $500,000 after the judge deemed her a flight risk. Muhammad and Vergara were ordered to have no contact with each other.
Muhammad was apprehended in Starke, not far from Jacksonville, early Wednesday afternoon after a four-day manhunt, officials said. He was found with his girlfriend, who was arrested for allegedly helping harbor a fugitive.
The two apparently left New York City together after the shooting, investigators said. NYPD detectives checked cameras that showed Muhammad leave Times Square after the gunfire and go to a single room occupancy hotel for the impoverished and homeless near West 42nd Street. There he changed clothes and was seen leaving with his girlfriend, identified as Kristine Vergara.
The two were believed to have been heading south in an SUV and there was a confirmed sighting of the duo in North Carolina on Tuesday. (They apparently stopped for dog food for two dogs traveling with them, police said.) Meanwhile, investigators realized he had connections to some addresses in Florida.
New information emerged that Muhammad was in the Starke area, and local detectives and U.S. Marshals had been combing the community, officials said.
He was caught in Starke around lunchtime after U.S. Marshals spotted him eating in his car in a McDonald's parking lot, officials said. Two dogs were with the pair when they were arrested, with French fries lying on the car’s floor, police said.
Police described his arrest as "uneventful," and said that he had "altered his appearance" by shaving his head. He was seen in photos being led away in handcuffs. Muhammad is currently being held in the Bradford County jail, and he is expected to face charges and be extradited to New York. In a jail video, Muhammad apparently proclaimed his innocence to authorities.
The dark SUV he and his girlfriend had been driving was towed to an impound yard for further investigation, officials said.
“While there is no joy today, there is justice,” New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said of the apprehension Wednesday.
Vergara has been charged with accessory after the fact to second-degree murder, after she admitted that she knew Muhammad was on the run from the NYPD, officials said. After initially denying any knowledge of her boyfriend's involvement in the Times Square case, Vergara said she drove him to Florida to evade cops.
NYPD officials, in a news conference Wednesday, said their investigation into the motive of the shooting was ongoing. New York Police Department Chief of Detectives James Essig said that Muhammad was identified as the gunman by his brother, who told officers he was the intended target of the shooting.
The gun used in the shooting has not been recovered, although three shell casings had been.
Meanwhile, the NYPD treated the 4-year-old victim to a parade in her honor now that she is out of the hospital, doing what they can to help her bounce back. A line of NYPD and New York State court officers did a waving drive-by in the Gravesend neighborhood, while helicopters flew overhead for Skye Martinez, who got a surprise visit from Minnie Mouse as she was cradled in her father's arms. Her mom spoke about how brave she was after being shot.
"I just keep remembering my daughter looking at me and my eyes, telling me 'mommy I'm OK,'" said Sonia Romero Martinez, who also thanked the officer who ran with Skye in her arms to the ambulance and applied a tourniquet.
Skye's family said it will be at least six months before the little girl can run and play again.