Ten people were shot on Tuesday morning inside a subway train in Brooklyn after a man put on a gas mask, set off two smoke canisters and began shooting at terrified passengers, New York city officials said.
Thirteen other people were injured as a result of smoke inhalation or as they tried to get out of the station, Keechant Sewell, the New York City Police Commissioner said.
Five of the gunshot victims were in critical but stable condition, but none of the injuries were life-threatening.
The gunman “opened two canisters that dispensed smoke throughout the subway car,” Sewell said. “He then shot multiple passengers as the train pulled into the 36th Street station.”
The attacker, who police said was wearing a neon orange vest and grey sweater, was using a handgun, and fled the scene.
Police later said they were looking for 62-year-old Frank R James as a ‘person of interest’ in relation to the attack, saying he had addresses in Philadelphia and Wisconsin. He was traced through a set of keys for a hire van that were found in the aftermath of the shooting.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, issued a video statement thanking those who responded at the scene and said all those who had been taken to hospital were expected to recover.
“Today is a dark day for New York,” Adams said.
Commuter Kenneth Foote-Smith told the local NBC TV station that he was in the carriage ahead of the one where the attack happened just before 8:30am (12:30GMT)
He said it began as the N train pulled out of the 59th street station.
Foote-Smith said he saw white smoke billow in the adjoining train car and heard loud bangs.
“We crowded to the end of the car,” he said. “It was just a really scary moment for everyone.”
He said the train stopped in the tunnel, then travelled into the 36th street station in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighbourhood where the conductor told passengers to get onto an adjoining R train. He and others, including some who were injured took that train to 25th street, where emergency personnel tended to the wounded, he said.
33 shots fired
New York City Police Department (NYPD) chief James Essig said the gunman had fired 33 shots. Police later recovered a Glock 17 nine-millimetre handgun, three additional ammunition magazines and a hatchet from the scene.
After initial reports that undetonated devices had been found at the scene, the NYPD tweeted there were no active explosive devices at the station.
In regard to the multiple people shot at the 36th Street subway station in Brooklyn, there are NO active explosive devices at this time. Any witnesses are asked to call @NYPDTips at #800577TIPS. Please stay clear of the area. More provided information when available. pic.twitter.com/8UoiCAXemB
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) April 12, 2022
Video from the scene showed people tending to bloodied passengers lying on the floor of the station.
Other videos of the immediate aftermath showed smoke escaping from the opening doors of a carriage as the train pulled into the station.
Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo said hundreds of police officers were on the scene in the hour after the attack “actively” searching for the attacker.
“Officers are actually going through the tracks, walking in the tracks, looking potentially for the shooter or looking for fragments of bullets, as well,” Elizondo told Al Jazeera. “This is going to be an ongoing investigation, for many hours, at least initially, not only looking for the shooter but also gathering evidence.”
More than a dozen police and fire vehicles with blue and red lights flashing were on the street outside the station, and federal officials from the FBI and other agencies joined them as the morning wore on.
“There’s going to be a collaborative approach” to the investigation among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, retired NYPD lieutenant Darrin Porcher told Al Jazeera. NYPD detectives will be working with members of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and agents of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), he said.
Investigators will be seeking to assemble video of the suspect entering and leaving the subway system and try to determine the potential source of any smoke devices recovered at the scene, Porchin said.
Trains in and out of the station were stopped, causing major transport delays. Schools in the area were locked down, and students told to stay in their classrooms.
Addressing the incident during a trip to Iowa, US President Joe Biden paid tribute to the first responders and civilians who “didn’t hesitate to help their fellow passengers,” and said his team was in close contact with New York officials.
“We’re not letting up until we find the perpetrator,” Biden vowed.
@POTUS has been briefed on the latest developments regarding the New York City subway shooting. White House senior staff are in touch with Mayor Adams and Police Commissioner Sewell to offer any assistance as needed.
— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) April 12, 2022
Merrick Garland, the US attorney general, was also monitoring the situation, his spokesman said.
Gun violence is a continuing issue in the US. There have been 131 mass shootings in the US – including this one – and more than 5,000 people killed in shootings nationwide so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a data-tracking group.
Shootings in New York City have risen this year, and the increase in violent gun crime has been a central focus for Adams since he took office in January.
The incident came just a day after Biden announced new gun control measures, increasing restrictions on so-called “ghost guns,” the difficult-to-trace weapons that can be assembled at home.
Lax gun laws and a constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms have repeatedly stymied attempts to clamp down on the number of weapons in circulation, despite a majority of Americans backing greater controls.