On Thursday, a car plowed into a crowd of people in New York City’s busy Times Square. The crash resulted in the injuries of 22 people and the death of 18-year-old tourist Alyssa Elsman.
“We’re shocked,”one relative, who asked to remain unidentified, told PEOPLE. “I mean, at first we didn’t believe this was all real until I got online and looked [it] up.”
The Michigan family said that Elsman, her 13-year-old sister and their mother were walking through crowded tourist attraction a little before noon. Then, the Honda Accord mounted the sidewalk, striking both siblings. Elsman died at the scene, according to the report. It is unclear what condition her sister is in. According to officials, four of the injured are in critical condition.
Just minutes before her death, Elsman posted a photo Times Square on her Instagram story.
“She was a very loving, loving little girl,” the family member said of Elsman. “She looked out for her younger siblings [and] would always play with them.”
Elsman’s father is on his way to New York City from Portage, Michigan, according to PEOPLE.
According to the New York Times, the driver of the Accord that crashed into the crowd was on drugs.
Richard Rojas, 26, served in the Navy for three years. But, since 2014 he was obsessed with conspiracy theories. He also has had several run-ins with the law. According to the NYT, Rojas once threatened to kill police officers, and just last week assaulted a notary he accused of trying to steal his identity. Rojas’ friends said he never sought help, but instead self-medicated his ever growing paranoia with drinking and marijuana. He has been arrested previously for drinking and driving. In fact, the car he drove Thursday was outfitted with a speeding detection system as a result of a past DUI.
Police executed a search warrant on Thursday at the Bronx apartment Rojas shared with his mother. A Scientology book was discovered and one official claimed that Rojas had made some statements about a day of reckoning.