Four Homeless People Stabbed in Spree, Two Dead, on New York City Train Line

The 181st Street Station on the A line remained closed Saturday afternoon after four stabbings of homeless people. (Credit: Eduardo Cuevas for NY City Lens)

Updated as of 8:26 p.m., Feb. 14:

A 21-year-old man was arrested Sunday on suspicion of fatally stabbing two homeless people and injuring two others in a spree on a New York City subway line over the weekend.

Rigoberto Lopez is being held on one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder, and two counts of attempted murder for the stabbings that occurred Friday and Saturday, according to a police email.

His listed address appeared to be the Red Lion shelter in Gowanus, Brooklyn. A police spokeswoman said this was his last listed address. The 198-unit former hotel was listed in a December report of New York City homeless shelters. Neither the Department of Homeless Services nor the shelter provider, Core Services Group, responded to requests for comment.

In a tweet, Police Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison said Lopez was arrested by Sgt. Douglas Perez and Officer Daniel Boylan of the 34th Precinct in Upper Manhattan, where three of the four stabbings occurred.

Within a 14-hour period, four people were stabbed on the A train from Queens to Upper Manhattan, top police officials announced Saturday.

All four people were described as homeless, with one asleep on the train when stabbed.

The stabbings on the A subway line Friday and Saturday resulted in hundreds of police officers deployed to trains and stations throughout New York City, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told reporters.

“The bottom line that the public should know is this: They can expect to see a very large footprint of uniformed officers deployed throughout New York City, whether they go onto a train, whether they go onto a platform,” he said. “They’ll be there as long as needed to make sure that people feel safe.”

The first stabbing occurred at 11:20 a.m. Friday at the 181st Street Station in Washington Heights, according to Police Chief of Transit Kathleen O’Reilly, who outlined the timeline of the four stabbings.

There, a 67-year-old man was stabbed unprovoked. After fleeing the station, he was taken to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital where O’Reilly described him in stable condition.

Nearly 12 hours later, at 11:29 p.m., the next stabbing occurred across the city at the end of the A train line, at the Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue Station in Queens. Police responded to a 911 call of a man stabbed multiple times in his neck and torso as he laid on a bench on the train. EMTs pronounced him dead at the scene. Police did not specify his exact age but described him as in his late 30s or early 40s.

In a tweet, the New York Police Department said they recovered a knife from Rigoberto Lopez, 21, after he was accused of stabbing four homeless people, two of whom died. (Credit: NYPD Twitter)

About two hours later, at 1:15 a.m. Saturday, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker found Claudine Roberts, 44, of Brooklyn, laying under a bench on a northbound train with multiple stab wounds at the Inwood-207th Street Station, the other end of the A line in Upper Manhattan. She was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

At 1:28 a.m., just 13 minutes later, police responded to reports of an assault at the 181st Street Station, where a 43-year-old man told officers he had been stabbed. He underwent surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian and is said to be in stable condition.

As a result of the stabbings, police deployed an additional 500 officers “both above and below ground,” Shea told reporters, calling it a significant increase to the Transit Bureau’s staffing.

The attacks came as police released January crime statistics on Friday, showing crime down in all indices compared to January 2020. Crimes on transit were down more than 50 percent.

Advocates have criticized the MTA and city government for treatment of people who are experiencing homelessness, a population that has risen dramatically in recent years.

In October 2019, a man killed four homeless men while they were sleeping in Chinatown, as the New York Times reported.

VOCAL-NY, a nonprofit that focuses on ending homelessness, called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to create permanent housing solutions to put people in safer conditions than on the streets, Joe Loonam, housing campaigns coordinator, told NY City Lens.

Amid the pandemic, trains stop running for public service between 1-5 a.m., when the MTA disinfects the subway system. This leaves people further exposed, Loonam added.

“We are reaping the results,” he said. “Tragically, the most vulnerable people in our city are stuck between the state violence of the nightly shutdowns and the attacks that we’ve seen in the last 24 hours. It’s a tragedy.”

In a statement Saturday, Sarah Feinberg, interim president of MTA’s city subway agency, and Tony Utano, president of Transit Workers United Local 100, called for more police presence on subways.

“We have been calling on the city to add more police to the system, and to do more to assist those who desperately need mental health assistance,” their statement said. “The time for action is now.”