NEW YORK — Nanny Lywelinda Andres’ daily walk around lower Manhattan with the 7-month old baby she cares for was interrupted by a haunting sound shortly after 3 p.m. on Halloween afternoon.
“The shots sounded like fireworks,” the 45-year-old nanny and Jersey City resident told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Nonstop. Not just one shot. Fireworks. I was praying, ‘Please, just keep me and the baby safe.’”
The shots were fired by police at 29-year-old Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov after he had plowed a rented Home Depot pickup truck down a crowded Lower West Side bike path before turning off and crashing to a stop into a school bus near the intersection of Chambers and West streets.
Eight people died and 11 others were injured in the rampage.
Saipov, who legally immigrated from Uzbekistan in 2010 and had a Florida driver’s license, exited the vehicle yelling and brandishing a pellet gun and a paintball gun.
He was shot in the abdomen and is in critical condition, though he is expected to survive.
“This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them.”
Saipov allegedly yelled “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” as he exited the truck.
During a Tuesday evening news conference, police Commissioner James O’Neill could only confirm Saipov had made a statement as he exited the vehicle and indicated his words combined with the method of attack led to the incident being quickly labeled a “terrorist event.”
Law enforcement sources told The Associated Press a note was found in the truck. Written in a foreign language, possibly Arabic, the note appears to support the belief it was an act of terrorism.
President Donald Trump condemned the attack and promised action.
“I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program,” he posted on Twitter. “Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”
“We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!”
A heavy police presence was evident around Manhattan throughout the rest of the day and into the late hours of Halloween night, particularly around the wildly popular Village Halloween Parade, which went on as scheduled.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered increased security at airports, tunnels, bridges and mass transit systems around the state. Cuomo, however, added there was no evidence to suggest the attack was part of a wider plot.
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is taking over the lead of the investigation.
‘I saw a lot of blood over there’
Uber driver Chen Yi saw the truck careening down the bike path and heard seven or eight gunshots moments later as the incident was concluding.
“I saw a lot of blood over there,” he said. “A lot of people on the ground.”
Eugene Duffy was crossing the street when he saw the pickup on the bike path. He ran south and saw officers, with guns drawn, ducked behind patrol cars.
“So many police came and they didn’t know what was happening,” Duffy said. “People were screaming. Females were screaming at the top of their lungs.”
School photographer Tom Gay heard a woman shouting about a man with a gun as he walked down West Street near the scene.
Gay peered around the corner to see a heavyset man pursuing a man in a blue tracksuit holding a gun.
Gay said the man fell to the ground after five or six shots were fired. He then saw a man approach the fallen man and kick the gun from his hand.
Andres, the nanny, described a chaotic scene on a route that is ordinarily calm despite the hustle and bustle of the city around it.
“I feel so bad for the people who were killed and hurt,” she said. “It was so loud and then people were just running at me. We were just making our daily walk from Rockefeller Park. Same thing every day. Same path. And this was Halloween with all the little children. It’s so sad.”
Argentinians, Belgian killed
Five of the eight people killed in Tuesday’s attack were tourists from Argentina, the nation’s foreign ministry confirmed.
They were in a group of friends who were in New York to celebrate a college graduation.
A Belgian official also confirmed one of the nation’s citizens was among the dead.
New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said two staff members and two students were injured in the bus that was struck by the attacker.
She said trauma counselors would be provided in schools on Wednesday.
Several schools are in the immediate vicinity of the incident.
Two students from P.S. 89 told the Review-Journal they were leaving school when panicked students began running back into the building and screaming about a man with a gun.
Students were held in the gym until the area was secure and their parents could pick them up.
Calvin Liang, a 16-year-old senior at Stuyvesant High School, was serving as a lifeguard in an after-school program when he heard bullets and hid with 20 or so people in an equipment room by the pool.
They were told it was safe to come out of hiding after about 20 minutes, but were kept waiting in the pool area for nearly two hours with a view of the scene.
“We could see the bodies,” he said. “We saw two bodies and three bicycles that were really bent out of shape. There were tarps covering the bodies but every once in a while, the wind would uncover them off a little.”
Truck thought rented in N.J.
Police were investigating a white Toyota minivan with Florida plates parked in a Home Depot parking lot in Passaic, New Jersey, about 17 miles northwest of the scene late Tuesday.
Saipov is believed to have rented the truck used in the attack around 2 p.m., about an hour before the attack.
Law enforcement sources indicated it is possible Saipov had been staying in New Jersey recently.
Home Depot spokesman Matthew Harrigan said the company requires a driver’s license, insurance information and a credit card deposit to rent its vehicles. Harrigan added the company is fully cooperating with the investigation.
Ride-hailing service Uber confirmed Saipov was a driver for the company.
A statement said Uber is “aggressively and quickly reviewing” Saipov’s history with the company and has reached out to law enforcement to provide its full assistance. Saipov has been banned from the app.
Saipov did pass a background check to begin working for Uber, which said it is “horrified by this senseless act of violence.”
Contact Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-277-8028. Follow @adamhilllvrj on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.