Image Sunset Park High School was one of the schools that remained under a “shelter in place” order until dismissal on Tuesday. Credit… Hilary Swift for The New York Times
The trains were not just carrying commuters on Tuesday morning but also parents and children on their way to school or day care centers. There are three schools within a block of the 36th Street station, and many others in the area.
Schools in the immediate vicinity — P.S. 24, Sunset Park High School, and P.S. 371, as well as two Pre-K centers on 25th Street — remained under “shelter in place” orders until dismissal, though the majority of schools in the area lifted such orders earlier, Chancellor David C. Banks said on Twitter. The order means that a school closes its doors, outside visitors are not allowed and there is a heightened state of readiness.
“All dismissals have been completed without incident for students across all impacted schools,” he wrote.
Image Belkis Tavarez, 45, picking up her son Sebastian Medina, 16, from Sunset Park High School on Tuesday. Credit… Dave Sanders for The New York Times
He had said that extracurricular programing and PSAL may be canceled at some schools.
Anna Helgeson, a 41-year-old librarian, normally takes the D train to 36th Street and then switches to the R for one stop to bring her 4-year-old son to his preschool near 25th Street. There are always lots of other children, and Tuesday was no different, she said.
Their D train dropped them off at 36th Street around 8:25 a.m., and they waited near the center of the platform, because Ms. Helgeson knows that’s closer to the exit at their final destination. An N train followed on the same track, but an announcement said that it would not be moving because of an investigation. Ms. Helgeson didn’t think much of it; such announcements are routine.
The R arrived on the local track seconds later, and the conductor shouted an urgent warning: “Everyone needs to get on this train!” That was not routine. As she waited to board, she noticed a darkened car on the N train with broken windows.
Commuters packed into the cars. As it left the station, she looked again at the N. The doors were open, and she could see a spilled soda, and what she thought in retrospect might have been a person on the floor. When she heard later that the suspect wore a construction vest, she thought she recalled seeing such a man, standing alone in a car next to the darkened one.
They disembarked at 25th Street, and all of the small children were nearly up the stairs when the scene suddenly grew chaotic. People started rushing and shouting: “Go! Go! Move!”
Image Police and fire officials responded to the site of the shooting in Sunset Park. Credit… Dave Sanders for The New York Times
She looked behind her, and a man said, “Keep those babies safe. Get them to safety.”
Her son still had not caught on that anything was amiss. He loves to run, and she suggested that they run from the station to school. She wasn’t sure exactly what had happened — she hadn’t heard any shots or seen anyone injured — but she filled in the staff members at the school.
“I definitely was on alert,” she said. “I thought, we got away from whatever crazy thing was happening.”
The gravity of the situation became more clear as she crossed Fourth Avenue after dropping her son off, and she saw two people sitting in the middle of the street being treated with tourniquets. Someone standing nearby said there had been a smoke bomb and shooting on the train.
She texted the other members of her parents group frantically, trying to make sure no one else had been on the train.
“I walked home in the rain and then just sort of broke down,” she said.
She can’t imagine taking her son on the train again, she said.
Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Dana Rubinstein contributed reporting.