4 Subway Stabbings and a Younger Man’s Downward Spiral

By the point Rigoberto Lopez boarded an A prepare on a current Friday, he was years right into a downward spiral. He had hit his father. He had punched a police officer. He had been caught with cocaine that the police stated he meant to promote.

In every occasion he was arrested, and his household tried unsuccessfully to assist him.

“He was unraveling,” his brother, William Astwood, stated. Psychological well being issues that surfaced when he was a youngster had worsened with drug habit, Mr. Astwood stated.

However Mr. Astwood had not anticipated what the New York Police Division stated occurred subsequent: Mr. Lopez went on a lethal rampage within the vehicles and stations alongside the A subway line. Beginning the morning of Feb. 12, he plunged the identical knife into 4 victims, killing two, the police stated.

The horrific streak of violence mirrored a convergence of intertwined crises — homelessness and psychological sickness — that the pandemic has exacerbated and made harder to deal with. Mr. Lopez, 21, and all his victims have been homeless, and one sufferer had lately been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward.

For years, homeless shelters and Rikers Island have served as de facto psychological well being hospitals. However many individuals are cautious of dwelling in shelters, and a brand new bail legislation has meant that individuals who might need as soon as been held behind bars are being launched. The pandemic has sophisticated efforts to offer follow-up therapy and housing to those that want it, since social service suppliers have dramatically scaled again in-person contact and police outreach groups have been disbanded.

Winston Alexander Roberts, whose daughter, Claudine Roberts, was killed, wonders if she can be alive had she been in a shelter. “She didn’t should be sleeping on the trains and die the best way she did,” he stated.

The stabbing spree and the daylong manhunt for Mr. Lopez intensified the unsettling notion that the subway, emptier within the pandemic, has turn out to be extra harmful. The police instantly boosted their presence within the subway system with nearly 650 extra officers.

However activists and a few public officers renewed calls that legislation enforcement ought to be supplemented, or altogether changed, by social employees skilled to assist people who find themselves homelessness or have psychological sickness.

Credit score…William Astwood

Mr. Lopez’s trajectory illustrates town’s threadbare security web for individuals with psychological sickness. He moved to New York from the Dominican Republic as an adolescent. As he acquired older, he turned what the household believed was a sometimes rebellious teenager till he turned more and more aggressive.

By the point he was 19, Mr. Lopez was basically homeless, staying briefly with completely different relations. Officers took him to an consumption heart for individuals coming into the shelters in Could 2019, the police stated.

Inside months, based on the police, he had a string of arrests: When his father refused to present him cash, he hit him within the knee with a wood stick. Days later, he confirmed up at his father’s job threatening him with a stick.

Little greater than a month later, when the police have been handcuffing him in November 2019, he punched one of many officers within the face, the police stated. That point, a decide ordered him held on bail, which his apprehensive father paid in March 2020.

Mr. Lopez was arrested once more in October by officers who stated they discovered 48 glassine envelopes of cocaine on him that he deliberate to promote. At arraignment, a decide ordered Mr. Lopez launched beneath one of the intensive ranges of supervision.

Mr. Astwood stated his brother had obtained a prognosis of psychological sickness when the police introduced him to the hospital throughout his sequence of arrests.

“From the primary time he was arrested, he ought to have obtained assist,” Mr. Astwood stated. “He stayed at a hospital two or three days at a time and so they let him go every time.”

The town’s jails have taken on a major position in offering psychological well being providers over the previous couple of a long time as incarceration rose and the variety of hospital psychiatric beds shrank. Final yr, about half the day by day inmate inhabitants within the metropolis’s jails required psychological well being providers, based on a spokeswoman for town hospitals’ correctional providers.

Social service specialists stated nicely over half of single adults in shelters have some form of undiagnosed psychological well being drawback, and that estimate rises amongst individuals staying on streets and subways. To handle their wants, town deploys licensed clinicians and psychiatrists, however they’ll intervene provided that homeless individuals agree or are in a life-threatening state of affairs.

Even then, the care they obtain usually focuses on the speedy disaster and ignores the underlying psychological well being points that led to the emergency or may cause one other incident.

“Lots of people in our shelter amenities, particularly people who find themselves proof against providers, don’t obtain the suitable care after which can turn out to be a threat to themselves or others,” stated Scott Auwarter, assistant govt director at BronxWorks, a social providers company. “Folks like this fall by means of the cracks on a regular basis, daily.”

Shortly after the stabbings, Mayor Invoice de Blasio stated Mr. Lopez confirmed no troubling psychological well being points after he entered the shelter system in 2019 up till the day of the assaults.

However Mr. Lopez skipped his courtroom dates and had missed greater than a dozen obligatory check-ins since October. CASES, a nonprofit that was accountable for supervising him, reported his noncompliance to the courtroom 3 times.

The decide dealing with the case couldn’t set bail or ship him again to jail as a result of the offense didn’t qualify beneath the state’s year-old bail reform legislation, stated Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Workplace of Court docket Administration. The legislation eradicated money bail for many misdemeanors and a few nonviolent felony offenses.

Ultimately, he wound up within the subway. In 2020, police responded to almost 6,000 911 calls requesting officers’ assist with individuals having a psychological or emotional disaster on the subway.

“There may be clearly a psychological well being disaster enjoying out on the streets of New York, and it’s completely enjoying out underground as nicely,” Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York Metropolis Transit, stated in an interview.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recommended at a information convention on Friday that state lawmakers ought to revisit Kendra’s Regulation, which permits courts to compel these arrested to bear psychiatric therapy when they’re believed to be harmful. He stated “a homeless individual” lately had hit a girl on his workers with a brick.

“We do nobody a favor leaving them on the road in the event that they’re a hazard to themselves or others,” Mr. Cuomo stated. “That’s not compassion.”

In Mr. Lopez’s case, individuals who have been dwelling on the road and staying on the subway have been left within the path of his rage.

His first sufferer, a 67-year-old man, was sitting on his walker on the subway platform on the 181st Avenue cease in Washington Heights within the late morning on Feb. 12, police stated.

He was stabbed within the knees and buttocks and survived, recalling that his attacker had yelled, “I’m going to kill you,” police stated.

Twelve hours later, police discovered Dwayne Dixon, an addict for a lot of his life who was approaching his 58th birthday. Stabbed in his neck and torso, he was pronounced lifeless on the bench the place he sat within the Mott Avenue-Far Rockaway station in Queens. Then, Ms. Roberts, 44, who had extreme psychological sickness, was discovered lifeless by a transit employee on a prepare at 207th Avenue in Inwood.

Minutes later, police responded to a 43-year-old man who had dragged himself to a financial institution, the place he collapsed and was discovered by a safety guard. The person, who survived, instructed police he was stabbed whereas he was sleeping in a stairwell on the 181st Avenue station.

Police discovered Mr. Lopez on West 186th Avenue carrying a bloody knife and sporting crimson-stained white sneakers.

He later admitted to the crimes, the police stated, and he was charged with homicide and tried homicide. The Neighborhood Defender Service, which is representing him, didn’t touch upon his case straight, however Alice Fontier, managing director, cautioned towards drawing fast conclusions.

Individuals who keep within the subway have been shaken, and Mr. Roberts grieved in his lounge embellished with dozens of household photographs celebrating graduations, reunions and different milestones.

He has only one photograph of Ms. Roberts, his youngest little one. He retains it in a white envelope and pulls it out solely when requested about her. “I can’t preserve taking a look at it,” Mr. Roberts stated, inserting it on his lap.

His daughter spent years out and in of shelters. Her sickness prevented her from caring for her son, now a youngster being raised by an older sister in Indiana, he stated.

Some days Ms. Roberts known as from a shelter. Different instances the police would name him to say she had been discovered sleeping in a terminal at John F. Kennedy Worldwide Airport.

She had spent a number of weeks from December to early January at Bellevue Hospital beneath psychiatric care. Discharged, she stopped by her father’s residence two days earlier than the subway rampage and stated to him, “I really like you, Daddy” in her soft-spoken voice, he stated.

“I instructed her, ‘Keep. You don’t have to go away,’” Mr. Roberts recalled. “‘That is your home.”

He briefly went into one other room. When he returned, she was gone.

Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis.

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