Gunfire erupted near the corner of Battery Place and Washington Street shortly after local schools had let out on Monday afternoon. At least one innocent bystander, a woman in her 30s whose name has not been released, was wounded when a stray bullet struck her in the ankle. A second man sustained a gunshot wound to the abdomen, although it was not immediately clear whether he was involved in the dispute that turned violent, or merely happened to be nearby when it occurred.
According to a police source, the shooting appears to have begun as an altercation between two men who sell tour tickets in nearby Battery Park. Ticket sellers in Battery Park have acquired a reputation for violence and other criminal behavior in the last 24 months, in a series of incidents in which they have been accused of assaulting tourists and each other.
The shots were fired steps away from three childcare facilities: the Childcare Partners NY West pre-kindergarten program at 20 West Street, the District 2 Pre-K Center at Two Washington Street, and the Learning Experience daycare center, at 28 Washington Street. Slightly farther away were Leman Manhattan Preparatory School, at One Morris Street, and P.S./I.S. 276, at 55 Battery Place.
A Battery Park City mother of three (who asked not to be identified) was walking from P.S./I.S. 276, shortly after picking up one of her children, and headed toward the Learning Experience, where her youngest child attends daycare.
“At 276, I told my oldest he could walk home with a friend to work on a science project together,” she recalls. “He asked me if he could stop in West Thames Parks, and I said that was fine. Then I took my seven-year-old, and we crossed West Street.”
“At about 3:15, we were walking along Morris Street, on the south side of the Battery Parking Garage,” she remembers, “headed toward Washington Street. As we turned the corner onto Washington Street, three boys, maybe eighth graders, ran by us very fast. They were wearing uniforms from Leman Prep,” which has a facility at Morris and Greenwich Streets. “They kept asking the other, ‘did you see it?’ I didn’t think much of what they were excited about, until we got to the school.”
“Just as we reached the Learning Experience front door,” she says, “I heard sirens. Not just one or two. There must have been a dozen police cars, all converging close by, although I couldn’t see where. And there was a huge crowd on Washington Street.”
“When I got to the front door of the Learning Experience, it was locked, which is unusual,” she continues. “I knocked and Jessica Pollard, the school director, opened the door and pulled me and my son inside. ‘There’s been a shooting at the end of the block,’ she said, pointing down Washington Street, toward Battery Place. She told me, ‘come inside, but we can’t allow anybody to leave until we know that it’s safe.’ Then I looked back outside, and I could see police officers in flak jackets and helmets swarming down Washington Street.”
The mother remembers, “Jessica was wonderful. She moved everybody to the basement, and kept the children entertained with storytelling by the teachers. She also kept all the parents calm.”
The mother immediately began texting the parent of the child with whom her eldest son was scheduled to work on a science project, and ascertained that both boys were by then indoors, at the second boy’s apartment. “Then I called my husband, who works in midtown, and told him we were fine, but that he should stay at the office until we knew what was going on. Of course, he refused to listen and came Downtown right away,” she says.
Click here to watch a 2 minute briefing on the incident from NYPD detectives
A few blocks away at P.S./I.S. 276, Leyna Madison, who directs the after-school program administered by Manhattan Youth, says, “as I got to the building a few minutes before 3:30 pm, I saw many police cars and police officers on foot moving south. Before I entered, I asked one of the police who are stationed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, across the street from the school, what was going on. He said there had been a shooting a block away.”
Ms. Madison recalls, “I went inside immediately and told the staff to lock the building down. We had several groups of children outside, doing practice for team sports or outdoor play, so I immediately got in touch with the adults who were with them and directed them to bring the students inside at once.”
“We have a procedure for sheltering in place,” Ms. Madison adds. “We moved all the students to the interior of the building, and locked the doors. After that, nobody was allowed inside except parents we knew by sight, or those who had identification with them.”
For the students within the building, the afternoon continued with little visible disruption. “We had clubs scheduled for the kids who were already indoors, and we organized play for the rest,” she says. The one apparent difference from an ordinary afternoon was that nobody — students or patients — were permitted to leave the building.
This continued until the uniformed School Safety Officers assigned to P.S./I.S. 276 received notice from their central command post that the immediate danger had passed. “Once we got the all-clear,” Ms. Madison notes, “we lifted the shelter-in-place at 4:15 pm.”
While local schools were locking down, police officers who responded to the location of the incident summoned an ambulance for the woman who had been shot in the ankle, who was taken to Bellevue Hospital, and began interviewing witnesses. Multiple accounts from bystanders indicated that a man had also been hit by the gunfire, but this person was nowhere to be found at the scene, according to police sources.
Using statements from people who had seen the shooting, they radioed a bulletin to find a car in which he had been observed sitting. This car was stopped a few minutes later on the Brooklyn Bridge, where the driver told police that his passenger had a gunshot wound. The car was escorted to Long Island College Hospital, in Brooklyn, where the shooting victim was admitted for treatment. The driver of the car was escorted back to Manhattan, where he was taken to the First Precinct for questioning.
After several hours of interviews, police determined that the driver was not a suspect, and he was released without being charged. The man who was shot remains in Long Island College Hospital. Both he, and the woman who was treated at Bellevue are expected to survive.
An NYPD source says that the identity of the assailant remains unknown, and that nobody is currently in custody for the shootings that took place on Monday afternoon.
Tour ticket sellers in Battery Park have been involved in a series of violent clashes in recent months. Last fall, a pair of vendors were accused of assaulting a tourist who refused to buy the tickets they were selling. In May, police officers arrested more than a dozen sellers for offering fake tickets to unsuspecting tourists. (In some cases, tickets for boats that tour the harbor are sold under the false promise that they will stop at the Statue of Liberty. In other cases, the tickets are simply worthless counterfeits. A third scam involves selling bogus, expensive tickets to the Staten Island Ferry, which is free.) And in February, 2016, a man and woman believed to be romantically linked, but who worked for competing tour services, became involved in a violent altercation, which ended when the woman attacked her boyfriend with a stun gun. In a second February incident, another couple selling tickets attacked a tourist who refused to buy from them, fracturing his skull.
But even those ticket sellers arrested for what might be considered minor, quality-of-life offenses in Battery Park often turn out to have records of being charged with or convicted of serious crimes like rape, assault, drug dealing, and robbery. A 2016 police investigation found that several of the companies that deploy ticket sellers to Battery Park make it a practice to hire people who have recently been released from prison, and are in many cases on parole or probation. (Such individuals are often willing to take on low-wage work under unpleasant conditions, because they are required to show employment as a condition of their release.) Several of these companies are themselves run by convicts, and in one case, the enterprise was being managed by an owner while he was imprisoned at Rikers Island.
With the coming of warm weather, the volume of tourists visiting Lower Manhattan is expected to increase dramatically, which may intensify the already fierce competition between ticket vendors.