A man in an orange construction vest put on a gas mask, released two smoke grenades and opened fire on an N train in Brooklyn on Tuesday morning, shooting at least 10 people, inciting panic in the subway during a peak commuting period and setting off a citywide manhunt, officials said.
At least 23 people were injured — 10 from gunfire, 13 from smoke inhalation or injuries related to fleeing — and five of them were critically hurt, but officials said they all were in stable condition and were expected to survive.
But the mass shooting — one of the worst outbreaks of violence in the subway in recent history — heightened fears across New York at a time when officials have been confronting a rise in violent crime and struggling to lure riders back to a public transit system hobbled by the pandemic.
By nightfall, the police were still searching for the gunman, and the city remained on high alert. The Police Department said it had identified a person of interest, Frank R. James, who was being sought in the shooting.
Officers at the scene found a 9-millimeter handgun, extended ammo magazines and a hatchet, said Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell. They also found a liquid believed to be gasoline, consumer-grade fireworks, two unused smoke grenades and a key to a U-Haul vehicle, the police said.
Hours later, officers found the U-Haul van about four blocks from the Kings Highway subway station on the N line, where detectives believed the shooter entered the transit system, officials said. Mr. James, 62, rented the vehicle in Philadelphia and has addresses there and in Wisconsin, police officials said. Detectives were still investigating whether he was connected to the shooting and said that they had not yet determined his involvement.
As the evening commute began, many New Yorkers were expressing fears about using the subway, after months of anxiety over whether the transit system had become increasingly unsafe.
“I’m terrified of taking the subway,” said James Lee, 33, who lives in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens and works near the subway station where the shooting took place. “I never take public transportation anymore in New York, period.”
The concern that the shooting provoked delivered a serious blow to Mayor Eric Adams, who has spent his first months in office focusing intently on crime and working to reassure New Yorkers and tourists that the city was safe.
Cellphone video taken from the subway platform at the 36th Street station in Sunset Park, where the N train arrived at around 8:30 a.m., showed panicked riders stumbling out of smoke-filled cars, some of them staggering from apparent gunshot wounds.
Fitim Gjeloshi, 20, was in the subway car with the gunman, he said. Just before he started shooting, the gunman uttered a strange phrase: “Oops, my bad,” Mr. Gjeloshi said.
“I started running,” said Mr. Gjeloshi, who lives in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. “He aims at me first. I got lucky, the bullet went through my pants.”
Mr. Gjeloshi said he shouted at everyone to move quickly to an R train across the platform. There were two people who were badly injured and in need of help, he recalled. He only realized there were holes in his pants after the attack was over.
Passengers on the R train watched in shock as they heard the pops of gunshots and watched the screaming passengers rush toward them. Several subway seats were streaked with blood.
Wounded people lie at the 36th Street subway station after the shooting.Credit…Armen Armenian, via Reuters
“People were screaming and running out of the train,” said José Echevarria, a 50-year-old electrician who was on the R train. “One guy screamed in Spanish that he needed help. He had been shot in the leg. I grabbed him and pulled him inside.”
During the confusion, the gunman managed to escape on foot — no officers were not present in the station at the time of the shooting, though officials said that officers had patrolled it earlier that day. Scores of police officers fanned across Brooklyn, keeping watch at ferry docks and subway entrances and going door-to-door looking for surveillance video that might have captured images of the shooter.
The effort to track down the gunman was hampered by a malfunctioning camera inside the subway station that might have captured the scene, Mr. Adams said in a radio interview.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s chairman, Janno Lieber, said in a television interview that he was not sure why the camera at the 36th Street station was not working. The authority announced last fall that it had cameras in all 472 of its stations, part of an effort to reduce crime.
The senior law enforcement official said that a handgun had been found inside the subway station.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found records matching the gun’s serial number — meaning it is not an untraceable “ghost gun,” according to a senior federal law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation. The official also confirmed that the gun “malfunctioned.”
Since taking office, Mr. Adams, a former transit police officer, has ordered hundreds of police officers to more regularly patrol trains and platforms. In February, he announced more frequent enforcement of low-level offenses on the subway, both to restore order and to help prevent more serious crimes.
Hours after the shooting, Mr. Adams, who on Sunday tested positive for the coronavirus and is isolating, issued a video message meant to soothe New Yorkers.
“We will not allow New Yorkers to be terrorized, even by a single individual,” Mr. Adams said. “N.Y.P.D. is searching for the suspect at large, and we will find him.”
The shooting caused major disruptions across the city. The M.T.A., which operates the subway, suspended some service across several lines because of the police investigation, with delays stretching into the evening commute.
Schools near the scene of the shooting and along subway lines were locked down. At one middle school in nearby South Slope, students were put on a full lockdown. They were forbidden to go to the restroom, and several reported panic attacks.
The Sunset Park neighborhood, a multicultural area with large Hispanic and Asian populations, remained all but locked down through Tuesday afternoon. Investigators surrounded the 36th Street Station, where about 9,000 people passed through the turnstiles on an average weekday in February, according to the transportation authority’s data. Ridership is at about 66 percent of prepandemic levels, slightly higher than the citywide average, which is about 57 percent on an average weekday.
Officials said that at least 16 people were injured after a man released a canister of smoke and opened fire on an N train in Brooklyn.CreditCredit…Dakota Santiago for The New York Times
Commissioner Sewell said that as of Tuesday afternoon, the shooting was “not being investigated as an act of terrorism.” Despite initial reports, no active explosive devices were found at the scene or on subway trains, she said.
Patrick Berry, 41, said he was waiting at the 25th Street station, one stop north, when an R train arrived at around 8:30 a.m. He and his 3-year-old daughter boarded, but the train didn’t move.
“Then suddenly, from the front of the train, I heard people screaming, ‘Run, run, run! Go, go, go!’ And then all these people came sprinting past our car, and I just felt like, ‘Oh, my god, this is a stampede,’” Mr. Berry said. “People started pushing out from behind. So I grabbed my daughter, and we ran too.”
Near the 36th Street station, officers blocked traffic as people stood in small groups huddled on the sidewalk. Residents said the chaos spilled out from the subway system and into their neighborhood.
“We saw an ambulance coming out with a stretcher with a person on it,” said Silvana Guerrero, 20, who works at nearby Sunset Bagels Cafe & Grill. “Their leg was injured — I’m not sure exactly what went on or what was going on. And then, we saw after that, two ambulances coming out, with two people, like, hopping on one leg.”
Suliman Suliman, who works at the Alsadi Food Salad Juice deli, said that a young woman walked into the store with blood stains on her white shoes.
“I wiped the blood off her shoes,” Mr. Suliman said. “She was in shock and crying. This has been a crazy morning.”
President Biden was briefed on the shooting, officials said. Federal law-enforcement agencies were assisting with the search for the gunman.
Shootings in New York City have increased this year, and the uptick in violent gun crime has been a central focus for Mr. Adams. Through April 3, shooting incidents rose to 296 from 260 during the same period last year, according to Police Department statistics.
And a string of shootings in recent days has highlighted the challenges in halting a rise in violent crime that is taking place in cities across the country.
The increase comes after gun violence hit historic lows in 2018 and 2019, and the city still remains safer than in previous years. But as New Yorkers emerged from the shutdowns that marked the start of the pandemic, many found the city to be more dangerous than it was when the coronavirus first swept across New York in the spring of 2020.
In response, Mr. Adams recently deployed about half a dozen new anti-gun police units. The Police Department has also started focusing on so-called quality-of-life violations, recalling its past embrace of “broken windows” policing — the stricter enforcement of low-level offenses in an effort to prevent more serious crimes.
“No more mass shootings. No more disrupting lives. No more creating heartbreak for people just trying to live their lives as normal New Yorkers,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Tuesday. “It has to end, it ends now.”
Mr. Adams has also zeroed in on transit crime as he and transit leaders try to lure back riders to the subway, which he sees as a crucial conduit for the city’s economic recovery. Citing customer surveys, the transportation authority has said that the perception that the system is unsafe has kept many former passengers from returning.
So far this year, major transit crime was about equal to prepandemic levels, even as ridership is significantly lower. There were 563 major felonies reported through March of this year compared to 559 in the same period in 2019, but ridership is less than 60 percent of prepandemic levels.
“I grew up in New York in the ’70s. The system is way safer than it was when I was a kid,” Mr. Lieber, the head of the transportation authority, said on CNN. “But there’s no question that we’ve had a bunch of high-profile incidents and some statistics that are alarming.”
Reporting was contributed by Jonah E. Bromwich, Troy Closson, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Joseph Goldstein, Andrew Hinderaker, Sadef Ali Kully, Ana Ley, Andy Newman, Chelsia Rose Marcius, William K. Rashbaum, Ashley Southall, Glenn Thrush, Ashley Wong and Karen Zraick.