It was a quintessential New York nightmare come to life. A gang of robbers preying on people aboard the subway picks as its target a man who refuses to be victimized, and instead the man is shot.
On Monday, with Corey Townsend of the Bronx staging an impressive recovery from the damage from four .45-caliber slugs, Steven Lopez, 18, was arrested and charged in the July 19 shooting.The police at first believed that the robbers attacked Townsend aboard a No. 5 train near the 149th Street station in the Bronx to steal a pair of expensive athletic shoes. But law-enforcement officials now believe that the shoes were, if anything, an afterthought for the assailants and that Townsend's reason for resisting was not to keep his $140 Nikes but to protect his brother.
"These four guys went through the subway and patted down a number of people's pockets looking for valuables," said Albert W. O'Leary, a spokesman for the transit police. "While initially we believed the Nikes were the prime target, they were not. In fact, they dropped the shoes as they fled the scene."
With about a dozen other passengers looking on, the four youths turned their sights on Townsend, 21, a nursing student, and his brother, Theodore, 17. One put a gun to Townsend's head, the police said, and when the pair resisted, the armed man clubbed Theodore over the head with the butt of the gun.
"Corey Townsend for some reason believed that the gun was a toy," O'Leary said. "He tackled the fellow and the shots were fired while they were struggling on the floor." Bullets ripped through his abdomen, shoulder, arm and leg, yet he survived.
The incident bore echoes of the 1990 killing of Brian Watkins, the tourist from Utah who tried to defend his family from a knife-wielding robber in a subway station and was fatally stabbed.
The police learned after arresting Lopez that he, too, had been shot. They believe that it was a bullet from Lopez's own gun, which has not been recovered, that passed through his upper arm.
As surely as Townsend was in the wrong place at the wrong time, so was Lopez five days later. He was in a Bronx sporting goods store when it was held up on Saturday and was arrested on suspicion of being among the robbers.
While the police could not link Lopez to the store robbery, they held him on an outstanding arrest warrant for failure to appear in court on charges of assault and reckless endangerment. Investigators soon tied Lopez, who has two previous convictions, one for assault and one for attempted robbery and related charges, to the subway shooting.
On Monday, Townsend picked a photo of Lopez from an array of pictures, the police said, and two witnesses identified the suspect in a police lineup. At about the same time that Townsend's parents joined Rep. Charles E. Schumer in an appeal for stricter control of handguns, Lopez was charged with attempted murder, assault, attempted robbery and criminal use of a weapon.
"We're still seeking the other three suspects," O'Leary said.
Townsend is in good condition at Lincoln Hospital and recovering with remarkable speed, according to Julia Rivera, a hospital spokeswoman. "He may be discharged this week," she said. "He's very lucky and very resilient."