NEW YORK (AP) — A homeless man wielding a long metal pipe rampaged through New York City early Saturday attacking other homeless people who were sleeping, killing four and leaving a fifth with serious injuries, police said.
A 24-year-old suspect was in custody but has yet to be charged. Police recovered the weapon that was still in the suspect’s hands when he was arrested, officials said.
“The motive appears to be, right now, just random attacks,” Chief of Manhattan South Detectives Michael Baldassano said at a Saturday news conference, adding there was no evidence yet that the victims were “targeted by race, age, anything of that nature.”
The victims were attacked as they slept in doorways and sidewalks in Manhattan’s Chinatown section, which is packed during daylight hours but empties out at night.
Police responded to a 911 call just before 2 a.m. as one assault was in progress. They found one man dead in the street and a second with critical head injuries.
A search of the neighborhood turned up two additional bodies.
The New York Post published photos of two of the victims under white sheets, one slumped in a blood-spattered doorway, the other on the sidewalk. The identities of the victims have not been released.
Two of the men were killed on The Bowery, which cuts through the heart of Chinatown and has for decades been known as New York’s skid row. Two more died on East Broadway, the neighborhood’s main street.
The lone known survivor of the attacks was hospitalized in critical condition. Police planned to question him as soon as possible, Baldassano said.
Another homeless man who had slept in the area, Stephen Miller, said he knew one of the victims as kind and quiet.
“No one knew him by name, but we saw him every day,” Miller said. “At this point, I’m just sad. This guy never did anything. Just had a life to live. It sucks that he’s out here in the rain and everything but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a life to live.”
New York City’s homeless population has grown to record levels over the past decade, and the homeless remain among the city’s most vulnerable residents. Over the last five years, an average of seven have been slain each year.
Mayor Bill de Blasio launched new homeless outreach efforts early in his tenure in an attempt to move more people off the street and into shelters, but the program has faced challenges. City efforts to build more homeless shelters have dragged due to neighborhood opposition.
De Blasio tweeted Saturday that he’s “stunned and horrified by this senseless act of violence against the most vulnerable members of our community.”
The attacks happened in one of the few downtown Manhattan areas that has retained its character as a center for new immigrants, though gentrification has started to creep in lately.
During the day, it bustles with small shops, restaurants and markets doing business in Chinese, as a mix of residents and tourists pack the sidewalks. At night it can be desolate in some sections.
Chief of Manhattan South Detectives Michael Baldassano said at a Saturday news conference that the men were attacked at random in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood with the object that authorities recovered.
Police responded to a 911 call just before 2 a.m. as one assault was in progress.
A 24-year-old suspect was in custody but has yet to be charged, the detective said. Police recovered a metal pipe that was still in the suspect’s hands when he was arrested after fleeing following the attacks.
The chief said he also is homeless.
“The motive appears to be right now, just random attacks; it doesn’t seem any of them (the victims) was targeted by race, age — anything of that nature,” Baldassano said.
Two witnesses told responding officers that the suspect was wearing a black jacket and black pants that helped police find him quickly just a few streets away.
Two of the men were killed on The Bowery, which cuts through the heart of Chinatown and has for decades been known as New York’s skid row, inhabited by homeless addicts and alcoholics.
During the day, the increasingly gentrified neighborhood is bustling with small businesses and street vendors offering discount goods, its sidewalks packed with pedestrians.
Late at night, when the shops close, it turns into a quiet, desolate neighborhood that was the setting for Saturday’s attacks.
The victims were attacked in three different locations near the intersection of The Bowery and East Broadway. One died of blunt trauma to the head. A second man was attacked nearby but survived. He was hospitalized in critical condition. Police planned to question him as soon as possible.
The other three victims, attacked about a block away, also died of head trauma.
The New York Post published photos of two of the victims under a white sheet, one slumped in a blood-spattered doorway. The other lay under a sheet on the sidewalk. The identities of the victims have not been released.
Baldassano said police were searching the neighborhood for any other possible victims.
New York City’s homeless population has grown in recent years, to a great extent because of the lack of affordable housing.
Homeless people remain among the city’s most vulnerable residents. Over the last five years, an average of seven have been slain each year.