A Brooklyn man dealing with mental health issues was arrested following a brutal string of stabbings in which two people sleeping in stations were killed and two others were wounded in a span of under 24 hours this weekend.
Rigoberto Lopez, 21, was identified as the so-called “subway slasher,” who terrorized New York’s transit system over the weekend in a series of “unprovoked” attacks, police said.
A 67-year-old man, the first victim of the alleged knife attacks, was stabbed in his knee and buttocks around 11:20 a.m. at the 181st Street subway station in Manhattan, according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com. The man, who was experiencing homelessness, was treated at an area hospital.
Around 11:30 p.m., a 57-year-old was found stabbed to death on a southbound A-train at the Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue train station in Queens. He had stab wounds to his neck and torso.
Two hours later — and approximately 25 miles away — an unconscious 44-year-old woman, also apparently homeless at the time, was found inside a train at Inwood–207th Street station. She’d been stabbed seven times. She was taken to the hospital where she later died.
Minutes afterward, Lopez allegedly stabbed a 43-year-old man in the torso on the A-train at 181st Street. The man is reportedly listed in stable condition.
Lopez was later taken into custody by transit officers, who noticed he matched a police description. He confessed to carrying out the stabbings. Police also seized a knife from him.
“Forensics will be used to determine if this knife was used in commission in either of these incidents,” New York City Deputy Police Chief Brian McGee said in a statement.
A motive wasn’t released, but investigators have characterized the attacks as unprovoked.
Lopez was charged with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.
Police promptly said they would dispatch a surge of additional officers to the city’s subway system following the attacks.
“We will immediately commence a surge of officers to patrol both above and below ground to ensure that everyone that rides on our transit system on a daily basis not only is safe but just as importantly, feels safe,” New York City Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea told reporters on Saturday.
“This surge will result in an additional 500 officers, which is a significant increase to the staffing of our transit bureau and they will be deployed immediately throughout New York City
The stabbings highlighted the overall spike in crimes in New York’s subway system over the past year. As ridership declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, overall crime has dropped, but arrests for violent crimes have simultaneously risen, according to NYPD data. Throughout much of 2020, violent crimes, including felony assault, homicide, rape, and robbery, jumped in the city’s transit system compared to 2019.
A number of victims and perpetrators of the ongoing crime trend appear to be experiencing homelessness, police and experts said.
“The pandemic has dramatically decreased ridership, but has also given rise to both increased numbers of homeless seeking shelter on the subways and opportunistic crime,” retired NYPD captain Jim Dooley, who teaches the use of deadly force at the NYC Transit Authority, told Oxygen.com. “Less ridership translates into more solitary, vulnerable crime victims.”
In January, Khari Covington, who was unhoused at the time, was arrested on nine separate assault charges related to a number of attacks on different women at a Brooklyn subway station, police said.
Transit officials called the recent attacks “horrifying,” and noted that the police mobilization in response falls short.
MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye and NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg requested a total of 1,000 officers to patrol New York’s sprawling transit system — double what the city’s police department has allotted — in a recent letter to Mayor Bill De Blasio,
“We request teams of uniformed officers be assigned to every station and that officers ride the system throughout the day and during the overnight to ensure the safety of our customers and colleagues,” Foye and Feinberg wrote in the letter. “The fact is that we all see a disturbing trend above ground and below ground, which as you know began prior to the pandemic, and now has been exacerbated by the acute mental health crisis we are facing.”
Other officials said the city’s approach to policing the subway has failed miserably.
“It’s clear that our current approach to handling subway crimes isn’t working,” mayoral candidate and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told Oxygen.com in a statement. “We need to immediately rethink our outreach program on the subways, balancing public safety with the need for more proactive outreach to those struggling with mental illness, who are often both the perpetrators and the victims of these crimes. We also need to invest in more supportive housing, prioritizing New Yorkers in the shelter system.”
Lopez was living at a shelter in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, police said.
In January, he was arrested and charged with cocaine possession, according to additional court documents. In 2019, Lopez also allegedly assaulted his father with a wooden stick. He was charged with misdemeanor assault and aggravated harassment. He was later released on his own recognizance. Roughly a week later, Lopez threatened to kill his father following a dispute over money.
“I am going to kill you with a knife,” he said, according to a complaint.
Lopez was charged with criminal contempt after that incident, but a judge again released him on his own recognizance, despite prosecutors’ demands for $2,000 bail.
“It would have been better for all of us, and for him, too, to keep him in jail,’’ Lopez’s brother, Oscar Astwood, told the New York Post on Monday.
His family added that Lopez struggled with mental health and addiction issues.
Lopez was arraigned on Feb. 15. He was remanded by Judge Barbara Jaffe. The Neighborhood Defender Service, through which Lopez has obtained a lawyer, declined to comment on the case when contacted by Oxygen.com. His next court date is scheduled for Feb. 19, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
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