Police have charged a 28-year-old Lebanese national in Tuesday’s shooting of four Lubavitcher students on the Brooklyn Bridge.
The man, Brooklyn resident Rashad Baz, has been charged with 15 counts of attempted murder, various assault charges and numerous weapons violations.
Police have impounded the suspect’s car, a 1978 Chevrolet Impala, as well as a cache of weapons that included a submachine pistol, a semi-automatic shotgun and 50 rounds of ammunition.
Police Commissioner William Bratton said in a news conference Wednesday that preliminary ballistic tests have linked the weapons, which were found in the suspect’s car, to Tuesday’s shooting.
Police would not comment on a possible motive for the shootings, including whether there are links to last Friday’s killing of at least 40 Muslims by a Jewish settler in Israel’s West Bank.
Officials at the news conference, who included Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, would also not comment on whether the suspect was tied to any group, although they did say they were questioning other individuals.
But Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said it was clear the suspect was “not going deer hunting.”
The four Chasidic victims of the attack were passengers in a white van that had been part of a convoy accompanying the Lubavitcher rebbe back to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn from successful eye surgery in Manhattan.
The van, carrying 15 people, was shot at by a gunman in a car as it approached the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. The car pursued the can and fired at it two more times.
Two of the victims, Aaron Halberstam, 16, and Nachum Sossonkin, 18, were reported in critical condition from gunshot wounds to the head, and were not expected to live.
At the news conference, the district attorney said there would be an ongoing investigation into the shootings. He added that the police department is now questioning several other people in connection with the case.
The alleged gunman was apprehended by police after he left his car in a Brooklyn body shop to have its window repaired.
Reports say someone from the body shop tipped off police that a vehicle, fitting the police description of a blue car with a shattered window, had been left in the shop.
The window was apparently shattered when the suspect fired though it and into the van in Tuesday’s attack.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Giuliani praised the New York City police department for its “massive and swift” response to the attack.
The police apparently apprehended the suspect – who they say entered the United States in 1984 on a student visa – within 24 hours of the attack.
Giuliani also praised the Jewish community for its cooperation in the incident, and called on New Yorkers not to view the shooting along racial lines.
“This act of evil is not the act of a people, it’s the act of a person of persons,” Giuliani said.
Commissioner Bratton said members of the Arab American community gave “significant” assistance in locating the suspect.
Members of the Chasidic community and other visitors maintained a prayer vigil at St. Vincent’s Hospital, where the victims were taken, throughout Tuesday night.
Halberstam was pronounced brain dead. A spokesman for the hospital said the boy is being kept alive on life support systems, in accordance with his family’s religious beliefs.
Halberstam, who was known to his classmates at the Oholie Torah Yeshiva as “Ari,” was said to be favorite of the Lubavitcher rebbe. A classmate described him as a quiet, athletic boy who was very involved in the Lubavitch movement’s Jewish outreach programs.
Halberstam’s father, Chesed, was a butler and aid to the Rebbe’s late wife, Chaya Moussia.
A spokesman for the Lubavitch community said President Clinton had telephone the Halberstam family to express his anguish over the incident and to promise to pursue justice vigorously.
Sossonkin, who is from Israel, was also in very critical condition following surgery. His parents arrived from Israel on Tuesday night.
Yaakov Schapiro, a third victims, was treated at the same hospital in Manhattan for minor wounds to the head and hands and released.
A fourth student, Levi Wilhelm, was in stable condition at Caledonian Hospital in Brooklyn with a bullet wound to the buttocks.
Jewish leaders met in closed session Wednesday morning with Giuliani to discuss what is being done on the case and what the Jewish community can do to assist the police and protect itself possible further attacks.
The Jewish leaders praised the mayor for his handling of events and he praised the Jewish community for its help and dignity.
The Mayor’s Office has established a hot line for information connected to the case, as well as a $30,000 reward.
Police say security has been beefed up at Jewish schools and synagogues, and news reports say 500 additional police were sent to Crown Heights on Tuesday night, where the Lubavitch movement is based.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated incident, police in the Midwood section of Brooklyn were holding two youths for a bias attack that took place late Tuesday night against a religious Jewish man, a student at Brooklyn college.
The two struck the 23-year-old man in the head with a piece of wood while shouting anti-Semitic epithets at him.
The assailants were described as male Hispanics.
The man, who was unidentified, was treated for head wounds, received four stitches and was released from the hospital.