Despite arrest, subway stabbings lead to renewed fear of crime
Adams: Incidents are often the fault of mentally ill
New Yorkers were demanding answers after a 21-year-old homeless man from a Boerum Hill shelter was arrested in a series of attacks on subway trains, two of them fatal.
Rigoberto Lopez was taken into custody Saturday night and was formally arrested Sunday. After a psychiatric evaluation, he was charged with murder and attempted murder, police said. He later confessed to the weekend slashing spree, according to published reports.
One of the victims was discovered dead on a train at the Mott Avenue station in Far Rockaway late Friday with several stab wounds to his neck and torso, police said. Two hours later, a 44-year-old woman was found stabbed to death in a subway car at the 207th Street station in Upper Manhattan. Two nonfatal attacks — one involving a 67-year-old man and the other involving a 43-year-old man — also occurred in Upper Manhattan.
Authorities believe all four victims were also homeless. Lopez reportedly has been arrested four times before, including one arrest for felony assault.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams commented, “These attacks, which are believed by the NYPD to be related, come amid a surge in violence on our subways. The perpetrators of this violence are often struggling with some form of severe mental illness, and their targets are frequently some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, including our homeless neighbors who seek out the subway system as a refuge during the winter months.”
Adams, a former NYPD captain, detailed several changes he felt were necessary in the way the city fights subway crime. He said that “teams of trained mental health professionals must conduct routine inspections to engage with people suffering from mental illness, focusing on our most highly trafficked stations.” Police officers currently assigned to desk duty, he said, need to do routine inspections of subway stations within their sectors and report problem cases to mental health professionals.
He added that the NYPD “must ensure greater coordination between transit patrols and street patrols” and that the 311 system needs to be re-tooled so that officers can be deployed to specific subway stations.
These suggestions were made at a news event in which Adams was joined by City Councilmember Robert Cornegy (D-Bed-Stuy-Crown Heights), Transport Workers Union representatives, Councilmember Darma Diaz (D-Brownsville-East New York-Cypress Hills) and others.
NYPD Deputy Chief Brian McGee said officers on patrol in Upper Manhattan spotted Lopez, who fit the description of the suspect being sought in the attacks, at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. The officers recovered a knife from Lopez and brought him to the 34th Precinct for questioning, McGee said.
Police leaders said they would deploy an additional 500 officers into the subway system to guard against future assaults. “To the victims, to the victims’ families, we are 100 percent committed to getting justice … to bring closure to the families of this terrible incident,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Saturday.
The slashings followed other well-publicized, seemingly random violent attacks in the subway system. For example, earlier this month, a stranger approached a commuter aboard the J train in at the Kosciuszko Street station in Bushwick and said to the victim, “Why are you following me? You’re going to die today.” Soon afterward, the attacker stabbed the victim in the cheek and mouth.
From January 2020 to January 2021, there was a 56 percent drop in subway crime, according to the New York Post. The NYPD said the high-profile incidents were partially the result in a nearly 70 percent drop in subway ridership, which led to fewer cops in the subways. MTA Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg has asked several times for more police in the transit system.
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