Around 7:50 Tuesday morning, according to police, an emotionally disturbed homeless man, Julius James Graham, 43, set out on a bloody crime spree covering a three and-a-half block area in the Park that runs from 59th Street to 72nd Street along the Hudson River.
Around 64th Street, investigators say, Graham used a half pair of scissors to stab a 36 year-old woman jogger in the back. Then, they say, he kept walking. A block later in the park, he stabbed a 35 year-old man in the stomach, then slashed the throat of a 32 year-old woman.
“She was screaming,” said Shurita Fields, 51, a sanitation worker based out of the Sanitation Department garage located at the south end of Riverside South Park. It’s the closest building to the crime scene. “I told her to be calm,” Fields said, “and that we were going to stay with her ’til she’s okay.”
Fields and her boss, Sanitation Supervisor Phillips Irby, had run to help the victims after some dog walkers had rushed into the garage where Irby and Fields work, pleading for somebody to help.
When the two sanitation workers made it to the scene, said Fields, she saw a baby stroller that was clearly part of the crime scene. A toddler, 2, had been slashed in the arm by Graham, and the child’s father, 35, was took a stab wound to the chest trying to shield his son from the attack, according to cops, and according to one other witness, who is being hailed by police as a hero.
“I’m not,” said the tall man with spiky brown hair who was wearing a white dress shirt and aviator sunglasses at the scene. “No hero,” he told PIX11 News, describing himself.
Instead, he said the toddler’s father is the hero for protecting the little boy, who’s expected to recover, as are all of the victims.
Still, the situation spurred at least one angry reaction. “Over the last five weeks alone, there have been four violent incidents [in city parks],” said Geoffrey Croft. He’s the director of the parks promotion group NYC Park Advocates. “We’re asking how many more people have to get hurt or killed before they start taking the enforcement of our parks seriously.”
He said that the city had reduced the number of parks officers from over 400 to 80 in the last few years, but said that a new class of 80 officers was in a training academy now. Still, Croft said, that’s not enough.
In response to questions about the safety of parks, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly at an unrelated event in the Bronx said, “Parks are very, very safe.”
However, it was just four days ago that a woman pushing an eight month-old in a stroller in Fort Tryon Park in Northern Manhattan was attacked by an emotionally disturbed homeless man. The mother fought off the broken bottle-wielding attacker, and a search is still on for him.
Police are investigating to see if there is any link between that attack and the ones Tuesday morning in Riverside Park South.