UPDATE 1:00 p.m. EST: NYPD arrested 37-year-old Thomas Heard, a “transgender woman,” yesterday afternoon after Heard threatened another woman with scissors. The victim was able to assist police in tracking the suspect down.
Charges include assault as a hate crime, menacing as a hate crime, harassment as a hate crime, and assault with criminal possession of a weapon.
ORIGINAL: The New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is searching for a suspect in a series of racially-motivated attacks that occurred yesterday in Harlem and the Bronx.
Eight victims were sprayed with a chemical substance, believed to be pepper spray or mace. Another victim was physically assaulted while the suspect shouted racial epithets.
The NYPD released video of the suspect earlier today:
WANTED: Unprovoked RACIST ATTACKS. Female in light blue jacket and gray sweatpants sprayed mace in the eyes of 7 separate victims in Northern Manhattan. Call 800577TIPS #YourCityYourCall @NYPDTips @NYPDTransit @NYPD28Pct @NYPD24Pct @NYPDTD3 @NYPDTD1 @NYPDDetectives pic.twitter.com/4LXX3A2VfA
— NYPD Hate Crimes (@NYPDHateCrimes) March 9, 2019
The attacks began at the 125th Street and Lenox Ave. subway station in Harlem, where the suspect sprayed one man in the eyes.
Shortly thereafter, she sprayed another five victims while walking on 125th St. near St. Nicholas Ave., and then another victim at the subway station at West 96th Street and Broadway.
A NYPD spokesman said that all of the victims were white.
One of those victims was Joshua Smith, who spoke with NBC 4 New York. He said that the suspect sprayed him directly in the eyes from short range as he tried to board a train at the station.
“She held the mace directly to my eye and sprayed it right into my eye. She walked up to me and maced me and then kept walking… It lights your whole face on fire. Your sinuses, your throat feels like it is closing up. It’s rough,” Smith told reporters at the scene.
Two victims were transported to the hospital, but officials believe everyone will recover.
About an hour later in the Bronx, Denise Gannaway was physically assaulted, and her boyfriend Joe Barbuto was sprayed by the suspect twice.
They didn’t realize they were victims of the same attacker until they saw the news reports about those incidents.
That attack was captured on video:
EXCLUSIVE: more possible victims of “pepper-spray” attack. This woman says suspect physically attacked her in Bronx before spraying boyfriend. Cops say she sprayed 7 victims in Harlem. Being investigated as hate crimes. NYPD determining if this is connected. At 6pm on @ABC7NY. pic.twitter.com/hE5oeM07HN
— CeFaan Kim (@CeFaanKim) March 9, 2019
Gannaway told ABC7 that the suspect shouted, “I hate you, you white ******* *****,” as she kicked her. The suspect then sprayed Barbuto as he came to his girlfriend’s aid.
As the pair continued down the street, the suspect approached Barbuto again and sprayed him in the face from behind, at which point she ran away.
“I saw her pull something out of her pocket. I didn’t know if it was a gun, I didn’t know if it was a knife — I didn’t know what she had,” Gannaway said.
NYPD says that the suspect appears to be about 30 years old, 5′ 6″ tall, weighing roughly 200 pounds. She was wearing a blue top, gray pants, and white sneakers.
Crime Stoppers is offering up to a $2,500 reward for information in the case.
These attacks occurred just a day after two separate subway incidents in the same area.
On Thursday, a man slashed another subway rider in the leg after punching him while the victim was walking down the steps at a station in East Harlem. A few hours later another man punched a train conductor in the face after he was asked to stop blocking the train doors.
Earlier in the week, commuters held down a man who slashed a woman’s cheek with a razor blade while shouting “you white bitch” until police arrived.