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Accused Times Square driver ordered held without bail

The Bronx man who mowed down dozens of pedestrians in Times Square on Thursday, killing a young tourist, told police I wanted to kill them and said he was high on marijuana laced with PCP when he was arrested, according to court documents. Richard Rojas had glassy eyes, slurred speech and was unsteady when detectives interviewed him, during which he told officers, according to a criminal complaint: I smoked marijuana. I laced the marijuana with PCP.

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The complaint also said Rojas ran at a police officer after crashing his vehicle into pedestrians at Seventh Avenue and West 45th Street, and told the officer: I wanted to kill them. During a brief court appearance in Manhattan criminal court on Friday, Judge Tamiko Amaker ordered Rojas remanded.

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Harrison Schweiloch, who asked for Rojas to be remanded, said in court that Rojas went on a murderous rampage against our city. He drove from the Bronx to Times Square without incident, the prosecutor said, but he drove to Seventh Avenue and waited for traffic to move, made a U-turn, hopped the sidewalk . . . he murdered in cold blood an 18-year-old woman. Rojas only stopped . . . after his car crashed into a metal post, the prosecutor said.

Rojas did not enter a plea Friday to charges of second-degree murder, 20 counts of second-degree attempted murder and five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide. He did not speak during the brief court hearing, during which he stood handcuffed. Rojas defense attorney, Enrico DeMarco, declined to comment after the hearing. Rojas family members attended the hearing but did not comment. The prosecutor added that Rojas had been arrested another time in the past month. He pleaded down a harassment charge in the Bronx to menacing, the prosecutor said. He also has two DWI convictions, from 2015 and 2008.

Meanwhile, at a Friday afternoon news conference in Times Square, Chief of Manhattan South Detectives William Aubry said 20 pedestrians were injured in Thursday s rampage, which also killed 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman of Michigan. Of those who survived, 19 were hospitalized, and seven were admitted to hospitals, Aubry said. Three remain in critical condition and one, a 38-year-old woman from Canada, is in very critical condition, he said. Elsman s 13-year-old sister, who was among those injured, is being treated at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center for a collapsed lung and a broken pelvis, Aubry said.

He gave a timeline of the events leading up to the rampage Thursday, saying Rojas left his Bronx home at 10:30 a.m., heading to Manhattan. A half-hour later, Aubry said Rojas was recorded entering Manhattan, and at 11:50 a.m. he was spotted at West 48th Street and Seventh Avenue. Rojas waited on Seventh Avenue at 42nd Street for traffic to pass, then made a right turn onto the sidewalk, striking Elsman between 42nd and 43rd streets, and continuing on to hit others, Aubry said. Parts of his car flew off as he struck people and objects, and at one point he drove under scaffolding on the sidewalk, he said.

After his vehicle stopped on a metal bollard, Rojas got out, only to be tackled by a traffic agent, on- and off-duty police officers, and a security guard, Aubry said. Investigators now are waiting for the results of blood tests to determine what substances Rojas was on, he said. I can t comment on the exact chemical substance, Aubry said. We hope bloodwork comes back in the next few days to confirm what we believe. Investigators also are continuing to search the vehicle which so far has yielded nothing out of the ordinary and planned Friday to search his Bronx home, which he shares with his mother, Aubry said.

Officials said there appeared to be no terrorism link, but were still investigating the motives of the driver. Aubry said investigators were poring through Rojas background, including any history of psychological illness.

But, Aubry said, the fact that Rojas drove without incident from the Bronx to Times Square and patiently waited at 42nd Street before turning onto the sidewalk to plow through pedestrian traffic goes to his state of mind.

He waited for those cars to pass and he accelerated, striking down those pedestrians, Aubry said.

Police: Gunman shot, killed white men on street at random in California

Police: Gunman Shot, Killed White Men On Street At Random In California

Fresno police members walk near a shooting scene Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in Fresno, Calif. (John Walker/Fresno Bee/via AP) (Credit: AP)

FRESNO, Calif. – Three men were having a seemingly ordinary day in downtown Fresno, California, before they were singled out at random and killed by a black gunman targeting white victims, police said. The men happened to be on the same block, but had no known connection to each other or to the shooter, Kori Ali Muhammad, who told police he wanted to kill as many white people as he could before he was captured. One victim, a 34-year-old father of two preschoolers, was on the job when he was shot Tuesday in the passenger seat of a Pacific Gas & Electric utility truck. The driver wasn’t hit and sped toward the police department, but his partner couldn’t be saved.

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Another victim, a 37-year-old man, had just picked up a bag of groceries Tuesday at a Catholic Charities building when he was gunned down. Stephen Hughes, 66, said he and his wife rushed home Tuesday after receiving a frantic call from a neighbor to find a body draped in a blanket on the sidewalk leading to his front door.

“It looks like a guy carrying his groceries home from the store,” Hughes said. The third victim, a 59-year-old man, was gunned down in the parking of the Catholic Charities building.

“These were unprovoked attacks,” Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said.

Two Latina women and a child crossed paths with Muhammad but were luckier. Muhammad pointed the gun at them as they sat in their car trying to flee, but didn’t shoot. Muhammad, 39, is in custody and is expected to be charged with four counts of murder — for Tuesday’s three victims and 25-year-old Motel 6 security guard, Carl Williams, another white man who Muhammad shot last week. He also faces at least two additional charges of assault with a deadly weapon. Police had been looking for Muhammad in the Williams killing, and Muhammad said seeing his own name and picture in a press release Tuesday morning helped spur the rampage.

Muhammad had shorn off the braids featured in his wanted pictures and YouTube videos, fired 16 rounds in less than two minutes at four places within a block.

“I did it. I shot them,” Muhammad told officers as they arrested him, according to the chief. During the arrest, Muhammad shouted “Allahu Akbar,” but Dyer said the shootings had “nothing to do with terrorism in spite of the statement he made.”

“This is solely based on race,” Dyer said. Police are searching for the revolver Muhammad said he tossed into a pile of clothing. The gun may have been picked up by someone else, Dyer said.

On what appeared to be Muhammad’s Facebook page, he repeatedly posted “#LetBlackPeopleGo” and encouraged “black warriors” to “mount up.” A flurry of posts emerged in the past day. He wrote that his “kill rate increases tremendously on the other side” and also posted about “white devils,” themes he dwelled on in hip-hop videos that he posted on YouTube. Muhammad has a criminal history that includes arrests on weapons, drugs and false imprisonment charges and making terrorist threats. He had been associated with gangs but he was not a confirmed member, police say.

Muhammad was charged in 2005 with possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, court records show. Federal prosecutors said at the time that he was also in possession of a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and two rifles after being convicted of a felony. He claimed insanity, and his attorney requested a psychiatric examination for his client, saying Muhammad “appeared eccentric with some bizarre beliefs.”

He also “suffered auditory hallucinations and had at least two prior mental health hospitalizations,” according to court documents. His attorney said that Muhammad had “paranoia” and thought the justice system and his defense attorney were conspiring against him, court papers said. The attorney who represented Muhammad in that case did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Public records list Muhammad as Cory Taylor and other aliases with addresses in Fresno and Sacramento. Fresno’s police chief said his former name was Cory McDonald. A woman who identified herself as Taylor’s grandmother said Tuesday that the family last saw him on Easter Sunday. She hung up the phone before giving her name.

“I never would have thought he would do anything like this,” sad Muhammad’s brother, who asked not to be identified by name. “I’m just kind of shocked.”

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Contributing to this report are Associated Press writers Sophia Bollag in Fresno; Kristin J. Bender, Olga R. Rodriguez and Janie Har in San Francisco; Jonathan J. Cooper and Don Thompson in Sacramento; Mike Balsamo in Los Angeles; and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York City.

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Cuomo orders probe into bomb threats against Jewish centers

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered an investigation into bomb threats against Jewish community centers on Long Island and across the state after the latest series of threats Monday against Jewish institutions, including one in Plainview. No explosive devices were found at the centers in Plainview, Staten Island, New Rochelle, and Tarrytown. But the threats further unnerved Long Island s Jewish community, provoked calls for law enforcement to crack down on the perpetrators, and prompted Nassau and Suffolk police to intensify patrols at Jewish institutions.

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Similar threats were made Monday against Jewish centers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Indiana, Alabama, Missouri, North Carolina and Florida. It was the fifth time Jewish centers have been targeted nationwide this year.

Make no mistake: these reprehensible and cowardly attacks are not limited to the Jewish community. They are assaults on all New Yorkers and I vow that we will do everything in our power to catch those responsible for this wave of hate crimes, Cuomo said. He said he was ordering the State Police to work with federal and local law enforcement to investigate the threats.

Rabbi Charles Klein of the Merrick Jewish Centre said the increasing threats and attacks are nothing short of astonishing for the Jews in America.

This of course created a great state of alarm within the Jewish community, he said. We have parents who are terrified, kids who are terrified. Parents should not have to send their kids to a JCC nursery school or any kind of school worried for their kids lives. Police said a bomb threat call to the Mid-Island Y JCC on Manetto Hill Road in Plainview was received at 9:24 a.m. After the building was evacuated, officers searched the premises for suspicious items, but found none. Three centers on Staten Island also were evacuated after anonymous callers at 9:58 a.m. reported explosive devices had been placed in the buildings, the NYPD said.

Police evacuated the two-story center in Plainview from 11:05 a.m. until 12:15 p.m., said Rick Lewis, the center s chief executive. About 400 people were inside, including about 100 staff members, at least 200 children attending nursery school, and other members of the center, he said. The day returned to normal after everyone was allowed back in the building, Lewis said. The center planned to stay open until its normal closing time of 11 p.m. It was the first time the center, established in 1956, had ever received a bomb threat, Lewis said.

We will not allow anyone to intimidate or strike fear in the state of New York, Cuomo said. The full force of government will be brought to bear in these efforts and these perpetrators will be punished.

There were no reported threats at community centers in Suffolk County on Monday, Suffolk police said. But we are closely monitoring the situation and in contact with our law enforcement partners, both local and federal, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said in a joint statement. Out of an abundance of precaution, the Suffolk County Police department has enhanced patrols at synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and religious institutions. In Nassau, police put out a statement saying they will be continuing to conduct intensive patrols at all places of worship. In particular, police will be closely monitoring Temples and Jewish Community Centers in light of recent local and national threats.

Klein said his synagogue and others throughout Long Island are stepping up their own security. His synagogue recently decided to make their part-time security guard full-time.

There are many, many synagogues and certainly Jewish schools that are all moving in the direction of full-time expanded security because the state of threat has dramatically increased, Klein said. President Donald Trump last week denounced the threats nationwide as horrible, his first public forceful statement against anti-Semitism. On Monday, his spokesman, Sean Spicer, referring to the cowardly destruction of a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia this weekend and other attacks, said, The president continues to condemn these and any other form of anti-Semitic and hateful acts in the strongest terms. Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Queens, Long Island), whose district includes Plainview, said, The Mid-Island Y JCC is a place where children, senior citizens and families are supposed to feel safe, not terrorized…This is a time for people of all faiths and backgrounds to come together and work toward making our communities safe for everyone, regardless of religion.

The most recent incidents prior to Monday morning were received a week ago, when media reports said 10 centers were evacuated after calls. Cuomo noted that last week his administration announced among other measures a $25 million grant program to boost safety and security at New York s schools and day care centers at risk of hate crimes or attacks because of their ideology, beliefs or mission. In a tweet, Mayor Bill de Blasio said: Anti-Semitic threats like the one against Jewish community centers on Staten Island will not divide us. New York City stands united.

Just last Thursday the center in Plainview was the site of a town hall meeting hosted by Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). During the event he took 50 questions and talked about some of the anger and frustration that his constituents have expressed since Trump took office. When asked what he thought was behind the threat, Lewis said, Have you heard what s been happening to the other community centers? referring to similar threats elsewhere recently.

It s unfortunate somebody is targeting Jewish community centers to get to the Jewish community, but we re open to everybody, Lewis said. We re very mixed and we re very proud of it. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) released a statement after learning of the threat to the Mid-Island Y JCC on Monday, calling for Nassau police to step up patrols of Jewish community centers.

It is clear that a greater, organized effort from elected officials, law enforcement and community leaders is necessary to stamp out this bigotry that is spreading across our island, Kaminsky said.

With John Valenti and Nicole Fuller

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