The hatchet-wielding man who attacked four police officers in Queens on Thursday afternoon described himself as a Muslim convert and ranted online against America, but he had no clear ties to international terrorism, police said Friday.
The officers shot and killed the attacker in the Jamaica area of Queens at about 2:10 p.m., police said. The entire attack lasted about seven seconds, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Friday.
Officer Kenneth Healey, who suffered from a serious head injury, remains in critical but stable condition.
The attacker was identified by police as Zale Thompson, 32. NYPD chief of detectives Robert Boyce said Thompson had no clear ties to any one terrorism group, but investigators did find anti-government social media postings. Thompson converted to Islam two years ago, Boyce said. Bratton described him as "self-radicalized." Search warrants were executed at Thompson's residence and police are examining the evidence.
Thompson lunged at the four officers with an 18.5-inch metal hatchet near the corner of 162nd Street and Jamaica Avenue on Thursday afternoon after a freelance photographer asked the officers to pose for a photo, said Bratton.
He “charged at the officers with a hatchet in his hand, unprovoked, and not speaking a word,” Bratton said. Bratton added on Friday that the hatchet was still in Thompson's hand after he was pronounced dead on the scene.
While officials said there were not direct links to one terrorist group, Bratton said he is "very confident" it was an act of terrorism. While the attack appeared to be spontaneous, Bratton said Thompson's packing of the hatchet in a backpack showed some planning.
All four officers graduated from the police academy in July and were assigned to the “Partner Officer Program,” police said.
“These are four rookie cops, just starting out in their career, when the absolute unexpected happened,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “We just pray for the speedy recovery of each and every one of them and we make very clear to the family members that the city of New York and the NYPD would be with them for the long haul.”
Thompson first charged at 24-year-old Officer Joseph Meeker, striking him in the arm. He then struck the 25-year-old officer, Kenneth Healey, who suffered from a serious head injury, causing him to fall to the ground, Bratton said.
Meeker was released from the hospital by Friday morning, police said. Healey remained in the hospital, and de Blasio on Friday called for "thoughts and prayers" for the officer.
The two other officers fired multiple times at Thompson, killing him, Bratton said.
A 29-year-old woman, who was about a half a block away in front of the Conway department store, was caught in the crossfire and struck by a single bullet in the lower back, police said. She was recovering from surgery and in stable condition on Thursday night, Bratton said.
Police released a video of the incident in which a bearded man, wearing a hooded rain coat, can be seen raising the ax above his head before swinging it.
Hours after the attack the man’s body still remained covered by a white sheet on Jamaica Avenue. Several witnesses seemed thankful it occurred before children were streaming from area schools.
Nicholi Drlon, 22, was about a block away from the incident when he was startled by the sudden loud sounds.
“I heard a bunch of banging,” Drlon said. “I had my music on. I thought it was thunder, so I took my headphones off.”
Marie, 66, who declined to give her last name, was standing on the busy shopping stretch when the shots rang out. She didn’t realize one of the bullets zoomed past her and hit a nearby window until a passerby told her.
“I couldn't move,” she said. “And I said, ‘Oh, wow.’ I was standing right there and didn't even hear the window. Wow.”
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, the police’s union asked New Yorkers to pray for the injured officers.
“Their training kicked in and they immediately responded, and took control of the situation, even though one of their partners was laying on the ground seriously injured,” Lynch said.
(With Lorena Ramirez)