Videos show an ordinary New York morning turning into chaos on the N train

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In videos captured inside a smoky subway car, commuters can be seen leaning over their collars, pulling sleeves and hoods over their faces, trying to breathe. Before the doors open, there are a few cries of panic – just the familiar muffled scream of a rush-hour train on its tracks, punctuated by groans of pain.

When the familiar “ding” of the opening doors sounded at the next stop, passengers rushed forward, panting amid the wisps of smoke.

“There was a shooting! said a woman running away. Behind her, a man limps out of the car.

Tuesday morning’s attack, in which a man threw two smoke bombs inside a car on a northbound N train and opened fire, injured 23 people, 10 of whom were shot. And in an instant, it turned the subway – New York’s everyday icon – into a bloody scene of horror.

On Tuesday evening, police named a “person of interest” in the shooting, Frank James, without releasing any details about him. They asked for the public’s help in locating him.

As police searched for the gunman who carried out the mass shooting in a subway — a nightmare scenario the city had avoided so far — officials and subway riders began to wonder what the attack was about. could mean for the future of the city’s transit system, and New York City itself. Their metro, once the target of banal reproaches over delays and garbage, had become the last symbol of a city frayed by violence.

On Tuesday afternoon, Hagar Hassan, 20, an electrical engineering student at the College of Staten Island, came out of the subway shaken after finishing work at a bank in midtown Manhattan.

“It was terrifying to be on the train,” she said. “I thought: Maybe he’s here.”

A rise in violent crime has plagued New York’s subway system since the start of the pandemic, deterring riders and prolonging an overall decline in ridership fueled by the pandemic. In 2021, subway violent crime rates per million weekday riders increased almost everywhere compared to 2019, before the pandemic. Criminal assaults in the system have increased by almost 25%.

The crime spike continued even after Mayor Eric Adams unveiled plans in January to send hundreds of street-level patrol officers to regularly inspect subway stations and redeploy jobs officers desks on trains. For January and February, criminal assaults increased by 10% compared to the same period last year.

But Tuesday’s chaos stood out: A man in a worker’s vest put on a gas mask, opened a canister that filled the subway car with smoke, then opened fire, police said.

Once the train doors opened, sending smoke billowing from the station, frightened passengers fled, many of them rushing onto an R train sitting opposite the platform. Tube seats and cars were streaked with blood as people called for help.

Attacks on public transportation have wide-ranging repercussions, “because we live in public spaces,” said Louis Klarevas, a research professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and author of the book “Rampage Nation: Securing America from Mass Shootings”.

“How many millions of people, how many millions of New Yorkers, have been on this particular platform, on this particular train?” he said. “There is an increased sense of insecurity that results from these kinds of attacks, because it is easy for us to identify with them, because we can see ourselves in them.”

The 36th Street stop is in an area of ​​Sunset Park that is home to many Mexican and Latino immigrants. The N train, which departs from Coney Island, passes through immigrant-dense neighborhoods representing much of the globe. On Tuesday afternoon, investigators surrounded the station, where around 9,000 people passed through turnstiles to catch lines D, N or R on an average weekday in February, transport authority data showed.

At the station, as the attack unfolded, were a line cook who worked at a bodega, an electrician, high school students and many others.

Video captured by passengers and people on the platform showed the familiar space of a subway car turned into a trap. On Tuesday afternoon, with the assailant still at large, news of the shooting echoed in subway announcements, messages from friends and family and news bulletins.

Disruptions continued throughout the day: several lines were closed or operated with delays, making it difficult for people to get around. At the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays stop in Brooklyn, several MTA employees stood at the entrances to the subway, answering anxious questions from passengers about alternate routes.

Marjorie Michele, 50, a nursing technician from Ocean Hill, Brooklyn, drove an Uber home from work, she said. The lines were still squeaky from the attack, and it was safer.

“It could have been me, it could have been any of my children,” Ms Michele said. “Imagine those poor people who got shot this morning, they woke up this morning just to go where they were going.”

The trauma of the day would resonate far beyond the train car in which the attack occurred, said Jaclyn Schildkraut, an associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego, who studies the shootings of mass.

“In a mass shooting, a lot of attention is focused on those killed or injured, and rightly so,” she said. “But you had a train full of people who may not have been physically harmed but are going to suffer traumatic injuries, and you have an entire city that’s part of a bustling metropolis, now questioning their safety. .”

Mayor Eric Adams had vowed to quell violence on the subway, and the shooting came amid an already heightened police presence. Weeks after a woman was pushed to her death in front of a train in mid-January and a homeless man was charged with her murder, Mr Adams announced his intention to stop homeless people from s to shelter on trains and platforms and to have the police expel people who do not use the trains for transport.

Ridership had started to increase: For the third week of March – the most recent for which statistics are available – the metro averaged about 3.2 million riders per weekday, or about 58% of the average pre-pandemic. This is a significant increase from the 1.8 million weekday passengers in the same week of 2021, but still far from the pre-pandemic average of over 5 million weekday passengers.

Metro ridership has been hampered by the shift to remote work. But in a recent Metropolitan Transportation Authority survey, fear of crime and harassment was the top factor cited by former commuters who left the subway; 90% of them said it was an important factor in their decision whether or not to take the metro again.

While the shooter remained at large, some people avoided the subway altogether. Nayah Martin, 22, who uses the 36th Street station to get to work at a nearby surgery center, planned to take an Uber. “It scared the crap out of me,” Ms Martin said. “I’m not trying to stay on the subway.”

Ana Ley, Michael Goldand Alexandra E. Petri contributed report.

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