NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Prosecutors say the man accused of driving into pedestrians in Times Square, killing 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman and injuring 20 others, said “I wanted to kill them” and that police should have shot him.
Bronx resident Richard Rojas, 26, faced a judge Friday. He was arraigned on one count of second-degree murder, 20 counts of attempted murder and one count of aggravated vehicular homicide.
Meanwhile, the father of Alyssa and 13-year-old Eva Elsman remains in the Tri-State Area as his surviving daughter continues to recover from Thursday’s rampage.
With relatives at his side, Thomas Elsman took a break from being inside the hospital Friday.
“My daughter came here for vacation and now I’m going to take her home and bury her,” he said. “I have no words. I really don’t. I mean — it’s just an empty, hollow feeling.”
In court, prosecutors said Rojas told police that he “wanted to kill them.” He didn’t enter a plea and is due back in court next week.
According to the criminal complaint, police observed that Rojas “had glassy eyes, slurred speech and was unsteady.” Rojas also allegedly told an officer, “I smoked marijuana. I laced the marijuana with PCP,” according to the complaint.
“There’s preliminary tests that were done,” said William Aubry, NYPD’s chief of Manhattan South detectives. “They confirm what his statements were, and there’s also a more thorough exam that has to be done with the medical examiner, and that’s the blood results. Those are the results we’re waiting for,”
According to sources, Rojas’ statements were rambling, saying he’d been hearing voices and talked about the last day on Earth, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
Police said Rojas sped his car down Seventh Avenue around noon Thursday before making a sharp U-turn and jumping the curb at 42nd Street, where the first person was hit.
“He left his house at 10:30 yesterday morning, and at 11:54, he came here to Times Square,” Aubry said. “There were no incidents in between. That goes to his state of his mind. He waited for those cars to pass, and he accelerated, striking down these pedestrians. That goes to his state of mind.”
Aubry said as Rojas hit between 42nd and 43rd streets, he struck 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman from Michigan, killing her.
“He continues on from 42nd to 43rd, accelerating. He continues onto 44th, 45th, he actually goes underneath a scaffold,” Aubry said. “Parts of his car, the side-view mirror, license plates are falling off as he’s striking these pedestrians. People are being dragged. They’re on top of the car.”
The vehicle eventually stopped on top of a metal barrier before bursting into flames.
“I saw the flames coming out underneath, and someone was being pulled from underneath the car,” a witness said.
Duane Jackson, a street vendor, was at his stand just feet away from where Rojas’ car landed.
“The metal pylons were a great savior,” he told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell. “Thank God they put the pylons there about five months ago. I didn’t think they would be sturdy enough to take the impact of a car, and they were.”
The concrete barriers and metal stanchions were installed just in the past few months as part of a safety overhaul for the city, a response to terrorism around the world, CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported.
“Many more people would have been killed or seriously injured if it wasn’t for security measures put in place on 45th Street,” Aubry said.
More than 20 people were injured in the crash. At least eight people were still in the hospital Friday afternoon — four in critical condition, including a 38-year-old woman from Canada.
Elsman’s 13-year-old sister, Eva, is being treated at Cornell Hospital for a collapsed lung and broken pelvis, police said.
“That’s my firstborn daughter and I’m never going to see her give me grand kids,” Thomas said of Alyssa. “I don’t get to walk her down the aisle.”
Rojas was knocked to the ground by a nearby restaurant bouncer, who with others helped hold him until police took him away.
City leaders Thursday reassured concerned tourists and New Yorkers that the incident does not appear to be an act of terror.
“No indication this is terrorism,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
In the Bronx, police stood outside the apartment Rojas shares with his mother Friday while others collected evidence inside.
Rojas’ childhood friend says he seemed to become emotionally disturbed after a stint in the Navy from 2011 to 2014.
“That’s my friend,” Harrison Ramos said. “I’m concerned for him. It hurts.”
“The whole neighborhood is brokenhearted,” said another friend, George Espinal. “He hung out with the wrong people.”
Just last Thursday, Rojas was arrested for menacing, accused of pulling a kitchen knife on a visitor to his Bronx home.
In April 2015, he was arrested for DWI in Manhattan and later pleaded guilty to operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol. In August 2008, he was also arrested for DWI in Queens.
He was also arrested on suspicion of beating a cab driver in 2012 at the Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, Florida, where he was stationed at the time.
At the crime scene, there bouquets of flowers, stuffed animals and messages of love for Elsman written on an NYPD concrete security barrier put in place to prevent a copycat attack.
Officers in ballistic gear guarded street corners in Times Square and kept a watchful eye over the reopened pedestrian plaza.
Police placed several of the concrete barriers on sidewalks between 42nd and 45th streets, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
Some city leaders are now calling for more permanent protection.
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said there is a possibility that all of Times Square could be closed to cars from 47th to 42nd streets.
Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, came just short of saying that all vehicle traffic should be stopped, 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reported.
“We’re talking about opening streets to the majority of New Yorkers who use their own two feet to get around,” he said.
White and others say bigger sidewalks and fewer cars mean a safer Times Square.