|Updated February 5, 2016 2:41 PM|
Two NYPD officers were in stable condition Friday at Lincoln Medical Center after being shot Thursday night in the stairwell of a Bronx public housing complex by a gunman who then committed suicide in a nearby apartment, officials said.
The two officers were patrolling with a third officer at the Melrose Houses on East 156th Street when they encountered two men in the sixth-floor stairwell, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker said.
One of the men pulled out a gun and fired, hitting officer Diara Cruz, 24, below her vest, in the abdomen, and partner, Patrick Espeut, 29, in the cheek, a police spokeswoman said.
Cruz and her partner, Espeut, are both two-year veterans out of the 40th Precinct in the Bronx and are assigned to the housing bureau.
Espeut is expected to be released from the hospital later Friday.
He is a technical sergeant in the public affairs section of the New York Air National Guard’s 105th Airlift Wing based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, state military officials said in a statement.
After shooting the officers, police said, the gunman ran to a seventh-floor apartment, where he shot himself.
A .32-caliber semi-automatic handgun and a shotgun were recovered at the apartment, the NYPD said.
It was unknown whether either weapon was used in the shootings. Police said “several individuals” had been taken to the 40th Precinct in connection with the investigation — and said the second suspect involved in the initial confrontation was in custody. The NYPD has not released the identity of either man.
It was not immediately clear if he has been charged.
At a news conference at the hospital, Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the wounded cops.
“Our brave officers were doing their jobs tonight in our public housing, on patrol keeping our residents safe, when they confronted an armed assailant,” de Blasio, flanked by several NYPD officials and Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said. “Thank God in both cases their conditions are good. Both officers have been alert and communicating and so we are praying for the best here.”
In a statement, the 105th Airlift Wing expressed relief that Espeut, a member of the wing for 10 years, did not suffer life-threatening injuries.
“Technical Sgt. Espeut is a profoundly professional airman at the 105th Airlift Wing so it does not surprise us at all that he conducted himself with courage and distinction in his duties with the NYPD,” Col. said Timothy LaBarge, commander of the 105th Airlift Wing.
Lynch said he was relieved “we’re not getting the worst news.”
He emphasized that the shooting show the difficulty of “vertical patrols” in housing complexes.
During testimony in the ongoing Brooklyn manslaughter trial of rookie Officer Peter Liang — accused in the fatal 2014 shooting of a man in a darkened stairwell of the Louis H. Pink houses — Det. Nathan Garcia said the threat of an ambush in a project stairwell is a constant. Investigators said Liang’s 9 mm handgun accidentally discharged as he walked the darkened stairwell with his rookie partner. A bullet struck unarmed Akai Gurley, 28, in the chest as he was on a landing with his girlfriend a floor below.
He died later at a hospital.
When word got to de Blasio about the shooting Thursday night, he was already in the Bronx at Lehman College for his State of the City speech, less than five miles away. The mayor’s security detail quickly ushered him off the stage at the conclusion of his 69-minute address and drove him to the hospital where the officers were recovering.
In the hectic first moments after the shooting, officers rushed to the scene, searching for suspects by air and ground, as housing residents wondered what had happened.
“I was waiting for the elevator when I heard three shots,” said Katherine Martinez, 28. “Boom boom boom. I thought trouble trouble trouble.”
She said she looked outside and saw one cop with his hand on his head and blood coming down from the head. “He was bleeding a lot,” she said.
Calvin Guzman, 22, a resident of the complex, said he was at work when the shooting happened but was pleased the officers were expected to be OK.
“The police are just doing their job and keeping us safe,” Guzman said. “There’s no reason anyone should shoot at them.”
With Darran Simon, John Valenti, Anthony M. Destefano and Ivan Pereira