Richard Rojas, the Bronx man accused of driving a Honda Accord into a Times Square crowd, killing a teenage tourist from Michigan, is a former Naval electrician who allegedly told police he thought “the end of the world was coming.”
“You were supposed to shoot me! I wanted to kill them,” Rojas, 26, allegedly told police, according to The New York Post. The motive: He may have been trying to commit “suicide by cop.”
Rojas, whose car allegedly jumped a sidewalk and injured 23 people, killing 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman, was interested in Scientology, and police don’t think he was motivated by terrorism. However, ABC 7 is reporting that he told police “he thought the end of the world was coming.”
The New York Post is reporting, through police sources, that Thomas Elsman, Alyssa’s father, “went to the police precinct where the suspect was being held … and threatened to kill him” after driving to New York from Michigan following the tragedy. He was taken to a hospital to calm down, reported The Post.
The suspect “tested positive for PCP and told police that God made him do it,” CNN reported, adding that he expected officers to shoot him. However, authorities have not confirmed that account.
NBC News reported that the suspect was not drunk. Rojas is a U.S. citizen and military veteran with a criminal history, New York’s mayor said.
Rojas is accused of crashing his car onto a sidewalk in Times Square in New York, leaving behind a trail of blood and victims in the popular tourist spot. Four of the victims are in critical condition, the New York Post reports. Elsman, who died, was a car hop at a drive-in back in Michigan and was on a trip to New York with her family. (There is a GoFundMe site to help Alyssa’s family.)
Rojas has a troubled past, including a series of arrests. Heavy has obtained a 2012 police report from Florida that shows he was once arrested for threatening to kill “all police” after being accused of assaulting a cab driver, although the case was dropped.
TMZ published a series of photos that showed Rojas acting crazed in the middle of the street after the crash, which allegedly occurred after he sped the wrong way down a prominent thoroughfare. Police hit Rojas with a string of murder and attempted murder charges on May 19.
Note that some of the photos and videos in the story below are graphic and disturbing.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Suspect Is a Notary With Prior DUIs but Allegedly Tested Positive for Drugs & a Planet Hollywood Bouncer Helped Subdue Him
There were obviously initial concerns about terrorism. That’s because the scene of a vehicle ramming into a crowd at high-profile spots has become all too familiar. Terrorists, fueled by ISIS, have used that method in attacks in London, France, and Germany.
However, in Times Square, early reports pointed toward alcohol and, when that was ruled out, then drugs. According to CBS New York, the suspect “has two prior DWIs.” One was in Minnesota and one in Queens, reports NBC News.
It turned out that Rojas, who was born in the Bronx, didn’t have alcohol in his system. NBC New York reported that the suspect “blew a 0.0 when tested for alcohol at the precinct, but drug tests are pending.” ABC7 reported that Rojas allegedly tested “positive for drugs. Blood tests are underway to check for the presence of synthetic marijuana or PCP among other substances.”
According to CNN, police sources say PCP was allegedly found in Rojas’ system. However, other reports blamed synthetic marijuana or K2.
According to ABC7, witnesses reported the suspect seemed extremely impaired at the scene. “Rojas admitted smoking marijuana before driving, and when he was captured he told cops he wanted them to shoot him,” TMZ alleged.
Citizens rushed to subdue the suspect at the scene.
A video of his perp walk showed Rojas wearing a different color shirt than the photos of him at the scene. A witness told CBS that “the driver tried to run from the scene and the bouncer from Planet Hollywood hit him, so we jumped on top of him and ripped his shirt, wanted to make sure he had no gun or knife on him.” The ripped shirt might explain why he was later photographed wearing a red, not brown, shirt.
One of the critical people to intervene was Ken Bradix, the security guard at Planet Hollywood nearby.
“I turned around, I saw a car driving down 7th Avenue on the sidewalk and it was smoking,” Bradix said to Fox 5 New York. “[The driver] was screaming — no particular words — but he was screaming and flailing his arms in all kinds of directions.”
According to the television station, “Bradix ran to the middle of the street and he and a traffic agent tackled Rojas to the ground while cops raced over to cuff him. He said Rojas seemed like he was on something.”
Bradix told the AP that Rojas “began screaming, no particular words but just utter screaming. He was swinging his arms at the same time. There was something wrong with him.” According to BBC, the suspect allegedly later told police he had heard voices.
Rojas also has a May arrest for menacing. According to The New York Post, Rojas, “who is a notary, was arrested on May 11 in The Bronx for threatening someone who came to his house to get an annuity notarized. Rojas accused the person of stealing his ID, then put a knife to his throat, police sources said.” Although he was “charged with menacing and criminal possession of a weapon,” the Post reported, he pleaded guilty to harassment.
The car plowed into a crowd of pedestrians, jumping a curb. In a news conference, the police commissioner said the crash occurred at 11:55 a.m., when the 2009 Honda Accord mounted a sidewalk on the west side of 7th Avenue at West 42nd Street in Times Square.
The vehicle drove at high rate of speed, striking pedestrians on the way, injuring 23 in all, and killing the teenage girl, the commissioner said. The injury count had climbed throughout the day.
Videos captured the actual moment the car struck people. Be aware they are graphic.
According to NBC New York, in one of Rojas’ previous DUI cases, “he was driving faster than 99 mph in a 50 mph zone.”
The commissioner confirmed that Rojas was a resident of the Bronx with prior arrests, two for drunk driving (DWI). Investigators said in the news conference that they are looking further into his background.
The NYPD said within an hour after the crash that authorities don’t suspect terrorism.
2. Rojas Served in the Military as an Electrician’s Mate & Was Accused in Florida of Threatening to Kill ‘All Police’
In a news conference, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio said that the suspect is a U.S. citizen who served in the military and has a criminal history.
“The perpetrator is in custody. He’s a United States citizen and former member of the armed forces with the United States Navy. He has a criminal history,” the mayor said.
He was stationed in Florida, Illinois, and South Carolina, and worked as an electrician’s mate. He was awarded a defense service medal.
However, his Navy career unraveled with an arrest in 2012.
A 2012 police arrest report from Florida says officers were dispatched to the Mayport Naval Base after being informed an assault and battery had occurred on base and arrested Rojas. The case was dropped/abandoned in February 2013 for reasons that are unclear.
In the Florida case, officers were flagged down by a cab driver and told a green Honda was exiting the base being driven by the suspect. When officers stopped the car, they observed Rojas with an abrasion on his right hand. He yelled, “My life is over,” the report alleges.
Rojas allegedly turned and attempted to walk away, and the officer handcuffed him. He is accused of saying, “I beat the sh*t out of that cab driver and I’ll tell you why, he said, I owed him ($162). I beat the sh*t out of him. He disrespected me!”
The cab driver told police the suspect had attacked him after he refused to pay $44 cab fare. The report said Rojas was active duty Naval personnel.
“The suspect also made threats to kill all police and military police he might see after he (was) released from jail,” alleges the arrest report.
The report says Rojas allegedly told the victim to follow him into the barracks to get money to pay him, and at that time Rojas attacked him.
According to DNAInfo, Rojas “enlisted in the Navy on Sept. 17, 2011, and spent the next four months stationed in Illinois, Navy officials said.” He was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida “from January 2012 through to June 2013 when he reached the rank of Electrician’s Mate Fireman Apprentice and was stationed in the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina.” He was moved back to Jacksonville in 2013, the site reports.
He was “other than honorably discharged” in 2014.
According to The New York Times, Rojas grew up near Yankee Stadium and was known in earlier years for hanging out at auto shops and wanting to launch his own clothing line. However, his life deteriorated after his failed military service. When he returned to the Bronx to live with his mother, he descended into paranoia and substance abuse, the Times reported.
The crash into the Times Square crowd was horrific.
A witness told Fox News that she saw “clumps of people down.”
“We saw people laying on the sidewalk…with crowds of people laying around them. You could see clumps of people down the sidewalk with people all around them trying to help them.”
3. Rojas Had an Interest in Scientology & Allegedly Told Police He Thought the End of the World Was Imminent
Rojas had an interest in the controversial practice of Scientology, according to ABC 7.
“Investigators found materials that indicated Rojas has an interest in Scientology and made comments to police that indicated he thought the end of the world was coming,” reported the New York television station.
Harrison Ramos, 30, a friend of Rojas, told The New York Post that Ramos changed after his time in the military and started “drinking to relieve his stress.”
“He finally came home, and it was hard for him to find a job,” Ramos told the newspaper, adding that Rojas would rant about demons, devils, and conspiracy theories. “He was having a lot of bad nightmares. He was talking crazy. He was acting strange.”
Times Square was locked down after the incident, reports CBS. However, authorities were labeling the crash an “accident,” at least initially.
The New York Fire Department referred to the incident on Twitter as a “motor vehicle accident in Times Square.” According to Fox News, “several police sources told Fox News the incident appeared to be an accident. The NYPD press office had not yet confirmed that.”
However, in the news conference, Mayor DeBlasio confirmed that authorities don’t suspect terrorism. “Based on the information we have right now, there’s no indication this is an act of terrorism,” he said.
According to The New York Post, Rojas is accused of punching a police officer.
“When the car finally crashed into a pole, the driver got out of the vehicle and tried to run away, according to witnesses. He punched a police officer before several cops were able to apprehend him,” the Post reported.
4. Elsman Was on a New York Family Vacation & Her Sister Was Also Injured
Elsman, the girl who died, was visiting Times Square on a family vacation from Michigan, according to The New York Post. A 13-year-old girl who is the sister of the teen who died is among those injured, reported CBS New York.
Elsman posted “a video to Instagram atop the famed red staircase at the Crossroads of the World” shortly before she died, according to the Post. She posted photos from Times Square in 2016, too.
Horrific images emerged from the carnage scene.
A witness told Reuters about seeing “one person was covered with a bloodstained blanket after the collision.” The car crashed into a pole before stopping, reported Reuters. Photos showed it remained on the scene for some time.
According to CNN, the incident occurred about a mile from Trump Tower, although the president was not there at the time. CNN reported that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also headed to the scene.
5. Rojas Is Accused of Driving the Wrong Way Down Seventh Avenue
Witness accounts said the sedan, allegedly driven by Rojas, was spotted speeding the wrong way down Seventh Avenue toward the busy tourist venue, reports The New York Post.
The Post reported that the suspect allegedly drive down the busy street the wrong way for at least three blocks.
Photos showed the car “upended” on the sidewalk and injured people scattered on the street.
According to Fox News, “the vehicle was traveling against traffic and trying to enter a pedestrian section of Times Square.” The area was “heavily populated with tourists,” reports Fox.
According to Reuters, the vehicle was speeding when it collided into the crowd of pedestrians in Times Square. “A speeding vehicle struck pedestrians on a sidewalk in New York City’s Times Square on Thursday, according to an announcement at nearby Reuters news agency headquarters,” reported Reuters. Those injured were being treated at the scene, reported the news agency.
Videos and photos of the incident’s aftermath circulated on social media.
NBC News reported that there was a massive police response to the scene. “Emergency response in New York City’s Times Square due to incident involving a car reportedly hitting pedestrians,” the network tweeted.
The incident occurred around noon in New York (Eastern Standard Time), a time frame when Times Square is particularly busy.
This post will be updated as more information is known.