A man who was refused entry to the Museum of Modern Art because his membership had been revoked jumped over reception and stabbed two employees on Saturday afternoon, police said.
The attack was captured by surveillance video from the West 53rd Street museum that police released Sunday along with photos of the suspect, Gary Cabana, 60, who was still wanted. The victims, a 24-year-old woman stabbed in the back and neck and a 24-year-old man stabbed in the left collarbone, were listed in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital, police said.
The video shows the man through a revolving door and climbing onto the wooden counter with a knife in hand, pinning three people behind the desk. After tripping against a wall, he begins to jab and swing the knife as the employees cower under the desk.
He grabs a worker in the video as the worker tries to run past him, then swings the knife into the worker’s chest. The aggressor then releases the worker. Another worker manages to pass the attacker as a man in a suit throws objects at him.
Mr. Cabana’s last known address was a supportive housing residence in Midtown operated by a non-profit organization, Breaking Ground, providing shelter for the homeless, the mentally ill and those diagnosed with HIV/ AIDS, police said, and he had not been arrested before.
Mr Cabana remained at large on Sunday, but appeared to post his version of what happened on social media. The police department said it was aware of the messages and was investigating them.
In posts to Facebook and Twitter, a user writing as Mr Cabana said he had bipolar disorder and was ‘triggered’ by a woman who tried to silence him when he was laughing during a movie.
“Bipolar is a hard road to travel,” the user wrote. “Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. THEN you’re accused and kicked out of MoMA (not just movies, ALL ART too) by a bitter old woman who silences you when you LAUGH during a comedy.
The person posted as Mr Cabana accused the museum of “framework” and said he had never caused a disturbance or been escorted out of the museum by security. He said he was taken aback when he received “the letter”, an apparent reference to a letter sent by museum officials revoking his membership.
At a press conference after the incident, police officials said the letter revoking the attacker’s membership was sent on Friday, but he turned up at the museum on Saturday, seeking to watch a movie.
John Miller, assistant commissioner of the police department’s intelligence and counterterrorism offices, said the membership had “expired following two incidents involving disorderly conduct here at the museum on two separate dates in recent days. “.
When the assailant was refused entry, he “became upset” and then “attacked and stabbed two museum workers repeatedly”, Mr Miller said.
He added that the attacker was videotaped leaving the museum after the attack. He was described as a white man wearing a colorfully patterned shirt under a black jacket and a blue surgical mask.
Mr Miller said he was “known to the department” from two previous incidents in the same area and had been a regular at MoMA. But he didn’t have “a detailed case file or an arrest record that we are aware of,” Miller said.
The museum was closed on Sunday. A press representative said it would reopen on Tuesday.
On Sunday afternoon, police stopped outside the building where Mr. Cabana lives but would not comment.
Another resident said Mr. Cabana spent a lot of time in the computer lab in the building’s basement. “He’s going down there and chatting on the computer,” said Will Fredo, 65.
The attack happened shortly before a 4:30 p.m. screening of the 1938 film, “Bringing Up Baby.” Alessandro Pugliese, 24, who works in communications, said he arrived at MoMA for the film when three attendants at the desk near the museum’s film entrance started shouting.
After turning around, he said he saw the assailant stab one person in the back and another in the neck. The security guard near the entrance picked up what appeared to be a large binder and threw it at the assailant to distract him.
The attacker was still holding his knife when he asked where the security guard’s gun was. Then he ran outside the museum.
“I was absolutely shocked and kind of froze,” Mr Pugliese said.
Many visitors said the cries about the gunshots stoked panic. Police said there was no indication that any shots were fired.
Julia Garcia Valles, 24, a Spanish tourist, was queuing on West 53rd Street to enter MoMA when people shouted, “Shooting! started rushing for the doors in a panic. Some fell to the ground in confusion, she said.
“We were really scared,” she added.
Fabien Levy, spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams, noted the mayor had been informed of the attack, which appeared to be “an isolated criminal incident”.
Alyssa Katz, deputy editor of local news site The City, was on her way to meet friends at the museum when she saw people running out. Ms Katz, 53, said she spoke to two frightened French tourists who said they saw someone stabbed in the armpit.
Her friend Mike Rubin, 55, a contributing writer to The New York Times and other publications, was waiting for Ms Katz in the lobby when a security guard told her group to leave the building immediately. “It was like a phone game,” between people who had to rush, he said. “Nobody knew what was going on.”
Christian Desrosiers, 34, an entrepreneur, said he was having his ticket scanned when the commotion started.
He added that he was one of the first people to flee, after seeing three women in front of him rushing for the exit.
“They turned around in no time and started sprinting, so I thought I’d join them,” he said.
Wendy Keffer, 42, was visiting the city of Austin, Texas with her husband and two children. She was walking around for a 4 p.m. slot when they were told to evacuate.
“We were entering the museum and as we were about to enter we saw hundreds of people running out and everyone was shouting shooter, shooter,” she said. “It was very scary.”
Jo Walker, 24, a Yale University graduate student who uses the pronouns them and them, was in a cafe on the second floor when the incident happened. They left through an emergency exit because the escalator was crowded.
“We had no idea what was going on,” they said.
Gina Heeb contributed reporting.