They are the buzzwords of New York City crime circa 2022: Random and unprovoked.
A chilling spate of recent incidents involving innocent victims runs the gamut from a woman savagely beaten inside a Queens subway station to a 17-year-old Brooklyn girl killed by a stray bullet to a Mexican immigrant nearly killed by a sucker-punch outside a Manhattan restaurant.
The latest terrifying attack took the life of of a veteran city EMS lieutenant on her way to grab lunch in Astoria this past Thursday, with a schizophrenic stranger knocking her to the sidewalk before stabbing her 20 times for no apparent reason.
“There’s something profoundly wrong with New York,” said Mary Hassler, 66, an Astoria resident and cosmetics sales person. “The number of these attacks are growing. There seems to be more and more all the time.
“It’s every New Yorker’s fear.”
Only the shooting this past Wednesday of teen victim Shayma Roman, out of the cited incidents, did not involve suspects with mental health issues, police said. The NYPD does not keep count of random or unprovoked attacks committed by the mentally ill — or anyone else.
But the department reports an uptick so far this year in 911 calls involving emotionally disturbed people. Through Sept. 29, police cited an 8% hike with the latest numbers at 131,199 — roughly 500 per day, up from 128,488 over the same stretch of 2021.
And in a year when the NYPD reported a nearly 12% drop in homicides, there was also a citywide 37% jump in robberies and a 43% increase in grand larceny as New Yorkers expressed their fears about the ongoing situation.
“You hear of these attacks daily,” said Lucia Constantine, 46, as she passed the spot where 61-year-old FDNY EMS Lt. Alison Russo was inexplicably killed on a September afternoon. “They have been more and more, and there’s no consequences. These people are out here with rap sheets as long as their arms.”
Just last week, shocking video emerged of a homeless man targeting a total stranger in the Howard Beach-JFK Airport subway stop back on Sept. 20. The suspect, with a criminal past that includes the killing of his grandmother as a 14-year-old, repeatedly punched and kicked the mother of two small kids, who was in danger of losing her sight in one eye after the relentless beating.
Ex-NYPD officer Eugene O’Donnell, now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the arbitrary incidents resonate more with New Yorkers than other crimes or any crime statistics.
“People seem far more afraid of random attacks,” he said. “And people are not always rational about what they fear. It’s a cliche, but it’s the truth. A small number of subway passengers might be pushed on the tracks. But it’s powerful to riders who sense there’s no safety net.”
He was astounded by the sheer volume of daily 911 calls about disturbed people, “With 500 a day, something has to end badly.”
Queens resident Kristina Escobar said she was particularly shaken because her daughter’s school was right near the site of Russo’s murder.
“She gets out around the time it happened,” said the 44-year-old mom. “It’s terrifying. This could happen to any one of us.”
The city Health Department, in a statement, noted its Mobile Crisis Teams responds to mental health situations requiring urgent but not immediate action.
“NYC has launched a number of programs in recent years, many of which have seen sizable expansions in this administration, for New Yorkers living with serious mental illness,” the statement read. “Many of these interventions serve New Yorkers who are, or may become, justice-involved.”
Department spokesman Patrick Gallahue added the mentally ill “are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators.”
The view was different from Woodside, Queens, where accountant John Santora touched on the random and horrifying nature of Russo’s slaying.
“She was just minding her own business on her way to lunch,” said the 57-year-old man. “And what about [the suspect]? Where was his family? There’s health services out there for people like him, but if the family isn’t looking out for him, things like this happen.
“This never should have happened. It’s a real tragedy.”
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