US authorities charged a troubled Navy veteran with murder and attempted murder after his car smashed into a crowd of pedestrians at Times Square. The man reportedly told the police they were 'supposed to shoot' him.
Richard Rojas entered no plea during his court appearance on Friday, a day after he apparently killed a teenage girl and injured at least 20 people in Times Square. At least three people are still in critical condition.
While the attack triggered comparisons with jihadist-inspired vehicle rampages in Europe, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said there was "no indication that this was an act of terrorism."
Rojas is believed to have driven his Honda Accord into the crowded Seventh Avenue in downtown New York, jumped the curb and started hitting pedestrians on the sidewalk. He reportedly drove for three blocks before crashing into a metal pole. After the crash, Rojas bolted out of the vehicle and started running, but he was tackled by the passers by and the police. According to US prosecutors, Rojas had "had glassy eyes, slurred speech, and was unsteady," during his arrest.
"He began screaming, no particular words but just utter screaming. He was swinging his arms at the same time," said Ken Bradix, a security supervisor at a nearby restaurant who helped subdue Rojas.
Rojas told the police "You were supposed to shoot me! I wanted to kill them," during his arrest, and also said he heard "voices," according to the US media.
The suspect reportedly told the authorities that he had smoked marijuana laced with PCP before the rampage.
Arrested just days before attack
Information on Rojas military service started surfacing soon after the attack. The Bronx native enlisted to the US Navy in 2011 and spent two months at a naval prison in South Carolina in 2013. Navy records do not indicate why. He was discharged in 2014 after a special court martial, a Navy officer said.
A neighborhood friend of Rojas, Harrison Ramos, said that the suspect was noticeably different after coming back from home.
"He's been going through a real tough time," Ramos said.
Another friend, Hansel Guerrero, told the New York Times that Rojas began discussing conspiracy theories about the government and was often physically threatening. Several people close to Rojas encouraged him to seek psychological help, which he did not do.
The Navy vet was arrested just last week and charged with pointing a knife at a notary, whom he accused of stealing his identity. He pleaded guilty to harassment.
He is due to reappear in court next week.
dj/rt (Reuters, AP)