At least 10 Brooklyn subway riders were shot Tuesday by a man wearing a gas mask and a green construction vest who tossed two smoke canisters in the train car to distract the rush hour crowd before opening fire, officials said.
The still-unidentified gunman was in the rear corner of the second train car in the moments leading up to the attack, police said at an evening press conference. As it rolled into the 36th Street and Fourth Avenue station in Sunset Park around 8:30 a.m., the man opened two smoke canisters and took out a .9-mm semi-automatic handgun.
While the car filled with smoke, he fired at least 33 times, according to NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig, striking 10 people.
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
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 could be heard shouting.
One source close to the investigation says his gun may have jammed, potentially preventing further loss of life. The weapon was recovered at the scene, as was a bag with smoke canisters and fireworks, along with a hatchet, a spray bottle of gasoline and a fuse — lending further credence to the theory of a premeditated attack on New York City transit riders, sources and officials say.
Three extended magazines of ammunition were also recovered at the scene: one still in the handgun, one in a backpack and one under his subway seat. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives completed an urgent trace to identify the gun’s manufacturer, seller and initial owner.
"You start seeing faces against the glass, and it's people, several women, banging against the glass, screaming," said Kenneth Foote-Smith, who was in the next subway car over.
Greenish smoke spewed from the subway doors when the Manhattan-bound N train train stopped at the platform, according to officials. Throngs of panicked people were seen running, bleeding — in total, 23 were hurt, police said. Five of the gunshot victims were critically injured, with details on the nature of their wounds not immediately clear.
No fatalities were reported.
More than a dozen victims were not struck by gunfire, but were hurt in the crowd response to the chaos, Essig said, with injuries including smoke inhalation, panic attacks and falling. Some of the wounded were in the same train car as the suspect, while others were on the platform, authorities said.
One straphanger who limped off the train fell and had to be helped away by fellow riders. At least one rider collapsed on the platform, as other photos showed people bleeding, their injuries being tended to by other riders.
"I did see a gentleman who was shot in the lower stomach, laying out the ground, being treated by three or four people — bystanders, not EMS," Foote-Smith said. "I wasn’t the one who was injured or shot. Those are the people I think about, who I can’t stop thinking about. The people I couldn’t help."
Some of the wounded boarded a train across the platform to flee to the next station, with quick-thinking transit workers ushering passengers to safety, said MTA Chair Janno Lieber.
The injured were taken to at least three city hospitals, including NYU Langone, Maimonides Medical Center, NYP-Brooklyn Methodist and Kings County Hospital. The youngest victims in the shooting, four children between 12 and 16 years old, were taken to Maimonides Medical Center, where they were visited by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in the evening.
Houari Benkada was one of the gunshot victims, telling CNN in an interview that she actually sat next to the shooter before smoke filled the car, sending people running. He said he was trying to shield a pregnant woman when he was hit.
"She said, 'I'm pregnant with a baby,' I hugged her then the bum rush continued, and that's when I got shot in the back of my knee," the 27-year-old said.
All of the victims are expected to survive. Trying to reach a loved one? Here's what to do.
The New York City Unified Victim Identification System (UVIS) was activated in response to the NYPD activity located near 36th Street and 4th Avenue in Brooklyn.
If you are concerned about the welfare of someone who may have been affected by the event and are unable to contact them, please call 311. From outside of NYC, you may call 212-639-9675.
Witnesses said the entire train car smelled of gasoline, and MTA sources described a similar smell too.
An MTA surveillance camera in the station wasn't working at the time of the shooting, three sources say. Lieber said he didn't know why the cameras malfunctioned, but said police had “a lot of different options” from cameras elsewhere on the subway line to get a glimpse of the shooter.
The smoke canister, and harrowing video from the train, prompted early concerns about possible explosive devices connected to the case, but NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell assured New Yorkers in an early afternoon news conference that there were no known explosive devices on any subway trains in the city.
MAP: Here's Where the Subway Shooting Happened
As police searched for the shooter, Gov. 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.
A senior law enforcement official said authorities had an image of the man they believe is the suspect and were working to identify him. They also found a U-Haul van on Kings Highway in Gravesend that may be linked to the suspect — after a key to that van was found at the subway station. Here's what we know about a potential suspect.
A 62-year-old man was identified as a person of interest in the case, as police said he rented a U-Haul van connected to the attack and suspect. However, Essig said they weren't yet sure whether he had any link to the subway attack itself.
Authorities zeroed in on Frank James after the credit card used to rent the van was also found at the shooting scene. James has ties to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to police, and was said to have past criminal records in those states, as well as ties to New York, law enforcement sources said.
Authorities also were looking into social media posts by someone with the same name that mentioned homelessness, New York and Mayor Eric Adams, leading officials to tighten the mayor's security detail, police said. Commissioner Sewell called the online statements "concerning."
It appeared that James drove the rental van to New York from Pennsylvania on Monday, based on license plate reader data and other info, sources said. Investigators obtained video from 5 a.m. Tuesday near where the van was found parked, appearing to show a man matching the description of the subway attacker emerging from the van.
The vehicle was later searched and cleared, senior law enforcement sources said, as cops removed a table, chairs and memory foam pillows from inside.
No suspect or person of interest, including James, was in police custody Tuesday evening. There was an increased law enforcement presence during the evening rush, while some subway lines weren't fully restored until the night. Trains that stop at the 36th Street station (D, N and R lines) resumed making local stops, bypassing that stop overnight.
Police were combing through subway tunnels, based on some witness reports the suspect may have jumped to the tracks, but the gunman remained on the loose into Wednesday. The suspected shooter was described as a man about 5 feet 5 inches tall and 170 pounds, wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt in addition to the green vest.
Cops believe he acted alone. A number of sources said a dispute may have unfolded on the train just before the gunfire broke out. A motive is under investigation, though right now the all-out manhunt for the gunman is investigators' top priority. police say.
Pictures: Multiple People Hurt in Brooklyn Subway Shooting
The shooting is not being investigated as an act of terrorism, Sewell said, but added that she was "not ruling out anything." The shooter's motive was not known.
"Clearly this person boarded the train, and was intent on violence," Sewell said.
The NYPD is leading the investigation. Federal investigators with the FBI, ATF and Homeland Security are also on the scene. Fingerprints and ballistics from the evidence recovered is being used to try and positively identify the shooter.
The 36th Street station where the shooting happened has about 9,000 people pass through that stop on an average weekday as of February 2022, according to the MTA. It was 13,000 before the pandemic, which plunged subway ridership citywide.
No trains were stuck in between stations during the emergency, officials said. No transit workers were physically hurt, according to their union.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams — isolating following a positive COVID-19 test — was briefed on the situation, a spokesperson said. In a video statement, Adams said that the city "will not allow New Yorkers to be terrorized, even by a single individual."
President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation, and later said at a press conference that he and First Lady Jill Biden are "praying for those injured and all those touched by that trauma." He also thanked first responders as well as civilians who jumped in to help those in need right away.
White House senior staff were in touch with Adams and Sewell to offer federal assistance as needed, a spokesperson said.
"We're going to continue to stay in close contact with New York authorities and as we learn more about the situation over the coming hours and days," Biden said. "We're not letting up on it until we find out and we find the perpetrator."
Law enforcement officials from Philadelphia to Jersey City and Newark were stepping up security at transit hubs as a precaution.
Local schools were placed under a shelter in place order, a Department of Education spokesperson said. It's not clear how many were affected but the chancellor said most of the orders had been lifted by mid-afternoon. Schools in close proximity to the shooting scene were still shut down later in the afternoon and all students were safe, David Banks said.
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. No officers were on the platform at the time of the shooting, but NYPD Chief of Department Kenneth Corey said the platform had been patrolled several times early Tuesday morning before the incident.
Police are asking for tips from the public, videos in particular, that could help them track down the suspect, as well as the person of interest, James. Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.
A reward of $50,000 from police, the MTA and Transport Workers Union was being offered for information leading to an arrest and indictment of the shooter.
"This cold-blooded criminal must be identified and taken off the streets right away. He must be brought to justice for this horrific act of violence," said TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano. "Riders need to feel safe. My members need to feel safe. We don’t just dip in and out of the system. We spend entire shifts down there every day and night. This guy has to be apprehended."