New York: A 31-year old woman, arrested for shoving an Indian immigrant to his death onto a subway train track in New York, has been charged with murder as a hate crime after she admitted before police that she pushed him because she "hated Hindus and Muslims". Erika Menendez of Queens is charged with second-degree murder as a hate crime for the death of 46-year-old Sunando Sen.
She is to be arraigned in Queens criminal court and faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison if convicted, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. Sen, an immigrant from India, had lived in Queens for years and recently opened his own printing and copying business near Columbia University.
He was unmarried and his parents were dead, according to roommates who lived with him in a small apartment. Police have notified Sen's family in India about his death.
Menendez pushed an unsuspecting Sen on to the subway tracks in front of an oncoming train at a Queens station as he was waiting on the platform on the night of December 27. Brown said Sen was struck by the train and died of "multiple blunt force trauma."
He was hit by the first car of the train and his body was
pinned under the second car before the 11-car train came to a
stop. In a statement released by the district attorney's office, Brown quoted Menendez as having told the police "in sum and substance" that "I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when
they put down the Twin Towers I've been beating them up."
Menendez was referring to the September 11, 2001 attack
on Manhattan's World Trade Center towers. After being on the run for almost two days, Menendez was apprehended by police early Saturday morning after it received a tip from a citizen who spotted her on a Brooklyn street and identified her from the sketch and surveillance video the police had released.
Police had also offered a $12,000 reward for information leading to the woman's arrest and conviction. Police spokesman Paul Browne said the citizen called 911 and police took the woman in custody after confirming her identity.
Menendez made statements implicating herself in the crime, admitting she pushed Sen before an oncoming train because she thought he was a Muslim. Brown said "the hateful remarks" made by Menendez and "which precipitated the defendant's actions can never be tolerated by a civilised society."
He said Sen was shoved from behind and had no chance to defend himself. "The defendant is accused of committing what is every subway commuter's worst nightmare being suddenly and senselessly pushed into the path of an oncoming train."
According to the charges, Menendez was observed talking to herself while seated on a bench at the subway station and was also observed pacing on the platform and muttering to herself. Sen was standing on the subway platform as the train approached at which time Menendez allegedly pushed him from behind into the path of the oncoming train.
Witnesses said the attack happened so quickly that Sen could not react and nor could the bystanders do anything to help him. The woman fled the station, running down two flights of stairs and down the street. Brown said he had no information about the woman's criminal or mental history. "It will be up to the court to determine if she is fit to stand trial," he said.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had said that according to eyewitnesses' accounts, there had been no contact
on the subway platform between Sen and Menendez immediately before the fatal push. The incident, which sent shock waves among millions of commuters who use the city's expansive subway system daily, is the second in less than a month when an unsuspecting person was killed after being pushed onto the subway tracks by a fellow commuter.
On December 3, 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han was pushed in front of a subway train in Times Square by 30-year-old homeless man Naeem Davis. Following the incident, leading Muslim civil rights group Council on American-Islamic Relations called on America's political and religious leaders to speak out against the "growing Islamophobia" in society.
New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY)'s Executive Director Muneer Awad said in a
statement, "We again urge our nation's leaders to speak out
forcefully against the rising level of anti-Muslim hate in
American society that is being fueled and exploited by a vocal
minority of Islamophobes." Sen's roommates described him as a "very educated person and quite nice."
"It is unbelievable. He never had a problem with anyone,"
his roommate AR Suman said. Another roommate A D Khan said he was "broken" by the incident, adding Sen was "so nice person, so quiet person, so gentle." The roommates said Sen worked hard and never took a day off despite having suffered a heart attack a few months ago. Sen had opened a small copying and printing business in 2012 on the city's Upper West Side.
They said Sen enjoyed watching funny clips on YouTube and would listen to classical Indian music. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged New Yorkers to pray for the victim and keep the second fatal subway push in the city this month in perspective. He, however, added that such incidents were rare and hard to predict.
"It's a very tragic case, but what we want to focus on today is the overall safety in New York," Bloomberg told reporters on Friday. "We do live in a world where our subway platforms are open and that's not going to change. To say everybody should exercise care...goes without saying," Bloomberg added.
The expansive New York subway system is used by millions of commuters daily, who are warned through posters and messages about the danger these tracks pose. New York authorities advise people to stand away from the edge of the platform and that they should never cross the tracks to get to the other side of the station. The trains and the platform are not separated by any barriers.
According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 139 people have been struck by New York City subway trains so far in 2012 and of these 54 died. In 2011, 146 people were struck by New York subway trains, of which 47 died.