A 30-year-old woman was in critical condition on Wednesday after a man described by law enforcement officials as emotionally disturbed pushed her into a moving subway train in an apparently random attack at a Manhattan station.
The woman, whom the police did not identify, was on the platform at the 53rd Street/Fifth Avenue station shortly after noon when the man shoved her against a departing E train, the police said. Witnesses said the attacker was talking to himself before he pushed her.
The woman fell onto the subway tracks after her head hit the train, Michael Kemper, the Police Department’s chief of transit, said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “Good Samaritans” helped her back onto the platform, Chief Kemper said.
She was taken to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital with a head injury and was in critical condition, police officials said. The police were seeking a suspect they identified as Sabir Jones, 39. Chief Kemper said Mr. Jones was “known to the department.”
“He’s known to us in the subway system,” the chief said, adding that video from security cameras in the station had helped investigators identify Mr. Jones as the suspect.
Mr. Jones has a history of homelessness, mental illness and drug abuse, according to a person who was given access to some of his social service records.
In November 2021, outreach workers from the organization that does homeless outreach on the subway, the Bowery Residents’ Committee, talked to him at a station in Manhattan, where he told them he used K2, took psychiatric medication and had been homeless for four years, the person said.
A few weeks later, Mr. Jones was encountered at a station in Queens. An outreach worker wrote that he would be a good candidate for a type of less-restrictive homeless shelter called a “safe haven,” because he “was able to demonstrate nonthreatening behavior” and “communicated effectively with a friendly demeanor.” Mr. Jones did not appear to have gone to the shelter, the person said.
The chance of becoming a crime victim on the subway is low, but high-profile attacks have fed fears over the safety of a system that is battling to win back riders. Being shoved suddenly on a subway platform in particular is a perennial urban nightmare.
Through Oct. 15, there had been 15 people pushed off subway platforms in New York City this year, compared with 22 in the same period last year, the police said. Officials could not say how many of the episodes resulted in serious injuries but that many of those who were shoved had managed to scramble to safety.
In May, a woman was critically injured after a man shoved her head against a moving subway train at the Lexington Avenue/63rd Street station. The woman, Emine Yilmaz Ozsoy, 35, was partially paralyzed in the attack.
The last fatal subway push occurred in January 2022, when Michelle Go, 40, was shoved onto the tracks at the Times Square station and hit by an oncoming R train. Martial Simon, 61, a schizophrenic homeless man with a history of erratic behavior, was charged with second-degree murder in Ms. Go’s death but deemed unfit to stand trial.
The fatal shoving of Ms. Go prompted renewed calls for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, to explore installing the kind of platform barriers used in subway systems around the world to block access to tracks. In February 2022, the authority announced plans to test such barriers at three stations.
Hours after the attack on Wednesday, police officers posted at an entrance to the 53rd Station were still turning away people by the dozens.
Natalie Tanner, 23, who was visiting from Ottawa, said she was troubled to learn that someone had been pushed but would continue using the subway because it was the least expensive and quickest way to navigate the city.
“This is like something out of a TV show,” Ms. Tanner said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Chelsia Rose Marcius and Andy Newman contributed reporting.