A man who was reportedly sitting next to the Brooklyn subway shooter moments before he unleashed violence and chaos on the train car offered a firsthand glimpse of the harrowing experience during an interview Tuesday.
From his hospital bed, 27-year-old Hourari Benkada told CNN’s John Berman that he was just on his way to work, minding his own business, when he hopped on the N train shortly before 8:30 a.m. that morning. He sat down next to a man wearing a gas mask and what appeared to be a Metropolitan Transportation Authority get-up.
Suddenly, a “smoke bomb” went off and black smoke filled the car. Then dozens of gunshots rang out and occupants scrambled hysterically. The gunshots hit at least 10 passengers. Benkada was one of them. A bullet entered through the back of his knee before grazing his kneecap and exiting the other side.
“This makes me want to never ride a train ever again in my life,” Benkada said, shaking. “I don’t even know how I’m holding my phone [right now].”
“All you see is black smoke after the smoke bomb went off. People bum-rushing to the back,” he recalled.
“About 10 shots went off. I think the gun jammed. I think he had an extended clip or something because I’ve never heard that many shots come off a handgun. It sounded like the loudest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
‘All you see was black smoke’: NYC subway shooting survivor describes moment attack began
Benkada, reportedly a housekeeping manager at the New Yorker Hotel, said that as the shooting started, he heard a pregnant woman screaming for help so he hugged her to shield her from the gunfire.
“There was a pregnant woman. … She said ‘I am pregnant with a baby,’ I hugged her,” he added. “The bum rush continued, I got pushed, and that’s when I got shot in the back end of my knee.”
According to Benkada, the shooting went on for at least a minute before passengers were able to break the train car doors open and flee into the station. He noted that the gun appeared to jam, which may have prevented further bloodshed. That has since been corroborated by investigators.
The survivor said he was not paying attention prior to the attack and thus did not get a good look at the suspect.
“I just had my headphones in my ear, my phone in my hand, minding my business, my head down, sitting down,” he said.
New York City police identified a person of interest on Tuesday — 62-year-old Frank James of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Keys and a credit card recovered at the crime scene were connected to a U-Haul cargo van recently rented by James. A manhunt for James is under way.
Authorities described James as a troubled man who expressed disdain for New York City Mayor Eric Adams and had begun uploading bizarre and threat-filled rants to YouTube. Other witnesses claimed they saw the suspect mumbling to himself on the train before carrying out the acts of violence.
Despite 10 being shot and at least a dozen more heading to hospitals for other treatment, somehow, none of the victims of the attack sustained life-threatening injuries.
Benkada is reportedly expected to recover and to be able to walk again after spending a few weeks on crutches. But he said the pain from the injury is “worst” he’s ever experienced.
“I didn’t think it was serious til I got out of the train and pulled my pants down and that’s when I saw blood gushing out,” he added.