NEW YORK — New York police are asking the public’s help to piece together how the gunman who killed two officers spent two hours before the slayings.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who ranted against the government and law enforcement on social media, ambushed and shot to death Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu as they sat in their patrol car at about 2:45 p.m. Saturday in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Police have said Brinsley started his day in Baltimore, where he shot and seriously wounded his ex-girlfriend at her apartment in the early morning and then took a Bolt bus to New York.
Police Commissioner William Bratton told reporters that investigators believe the gunman acted alone, but he said that police still need a full understanding of Brinsley’s actions.
“We owe it to the families to find out what happened,” Bratton said. “That’s why we’re seeking to build this case up, so we know going forward exactly who talked to this man.”
At 2:47 p.m. Tuesday, three days to the minute since the officers were killed, embattled Mayor Bill de Blasio — who has been sparring with the police union and rank-and-file officers — and first lady Chirlane McCray led a moment of silence at City Hall in memory of Ramos and Liu.
Before asking people in New York and around the nation to bow their heads, de Blasio said it is “a time of pain” for the city and “a time of mourning for two good families.”
“There’s a lot of pain right now that we have to work our way through,” he said. “We have to keep working to bring police and community together. We have to put the divisions of the past behind us.”
The mayor repeated his calls for the city to focus on the families of the fallen officers.
“Please embrace those around you as a symbol of our belief that we will move forward together,” he said after marking the moment when two officers were shot in an ambush.
At 9 p.m ET, buildings and landmarks on the New York skyline — including the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, One World Trade Center and 30 Rockefeller Plaza — will dim their lights for five minutes in honor of slain officers.
Despite calls by de Blasio for a moratorium on anti-police protests until after the funerals of the slain officers, hundreds of demonstrators marched down the sidewalks of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on Tuesday evening.
Some chanted “Hey-hey, ho-ho. These racist cops have got to go”; others carried signs saying “Jail killer cops” and “Stop the war on Black America.”
Unlike previous demonstrations, where protesters marched against traffic and blocked bustling intersections, the marchers stayed on the sidewalks. There was large police presence, with a phalanx of officers on scooters and on foot keeping protesters from impeding holiday traffic. Protest organizers said they planned to end the march in Harlem.
The man who ambushed Ramos and Liu mentioned online the cases of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, two highly controversial killings of African-Americans at the hands of police officers. The deaths sparked protests, and so did the fact that neither officer was indicted. In the Brown case in particular, there were repeated clashes between demonstrators and police.
Police say Brinsley posted on Instagram: “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours, Let’s Take 2 of Theirs.”
Brinsley’s sister and aunt told CNN affiliate WCBS that he was estranged from them, deeply troubled and suicidal.
Brinsley killed himself after killing the officers.
His family members said they don’t believe the police officers he killed were targeted for what they represented, despite his social media posts before the shooting.
“This has nothing to do with police retaliation,” said Jalaa’a Brinsley, the gunman’s older sister. “This was a troubled, emotionally troubled, kid. He needed help. He didn’t get it.”
Brinsley’s mother apologized for the horror her 28-year-old son caused.
“Ismaaiyl was a very troubled young man whose life was in turmoil and spiraling out of control,” Shakuwra Dabre said in a statement to CNN affiliate WABC.
“We were estranged for a few years, with occasional contact. I am deeply sorry for the loss of the two innocent men who were killed, and offer my sincerest condolences to their families.”
As they grieve the deaths of their colleagues, New York police must also deal with a spate of new threats.
The New York Police Department plans to increase security around the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square as a result of ongoing threats against officers, a law enforcement official said.
The NYPD is investigating more than 15 threats to officers posted on various social media platforms, trying to determine whether any are serious or credible, a senior New York City law enforcement officer told CNN.
The department’s intelligence division continues to monitor social media for threats against police. Officials have not released details about any potentially credible ones.
“If you see something on social media that is a threat against a police officer, call 911 immediately,” de Blasio said. “We would much rather get too much information than too little.”
Online threats against police officers must be taken seriously to stop future attacks, de Blasio said, referring to social media posts by Brinsley.
“Once this individual posted on Facebook his intention, anyone who sees that has the obligation to call the police immediately and report it,” he said. “We cannot take this lightly.”
Investigators have been combing through the gunman’s social media posts and looking through his cell phone.
Many of his Instagram posts show “self-despair,” said Robert Boyce, the NYPD chief of detectives. There are also anti-government tirades, he said.
Among several thousand images on Brinsley’s cell phone, investigators found footage of a recent protest in New York’s Union Square Park, Boyce said. In the video, recorded around December 1, “he is a spectator watching one of the protests,” Boyce said.
The hostile messages aren’t just coming from New York.
A Memphis, Tennessee, man has been questioned after allegedly posting threats against the NYPD, CNN affiliate WREG reported.
“Good job. Kill em all I’m on the way to NY now #shootthepolice 2 more going down tomorrow,” an Instagram post read.
Police and politics
De Blasio paused Tuesday morning in front of a memorial in Brooklyn for the officers, looking at flowers people had left and an American flag hanging on the wall of a building.
During the protests in support of Garner, he came under fire from some critics who said that he wasn’t supporting police.
Garner family attorney Jonathan Moore told CNN that no one in that family wants to be the face of any kind of political movement.
“They were thrust into this situation,” Moore said. “They didn’t want it.”
Eric Garner’s wife and mother have “gone out of their way” to voice that they are not anti-police and don’t wish to paint all law enforcement with a broad brush, Moore said.
But police do feel that has happened when they police protests around the city and see demonstrators carrying signs that accuse the police of racism, said former New York Police Capt. Mark Novak.
“They feel under attack,” Novak said, appearing on CNN with Moore.
Saturday night, officers turned their backs on the mayor and Bratton as they walked through a hospital. The mayor and commissioner were there to give information about the officers’ deaths.
Police union President Pat Lynch said de Blasio shared some blame for the shootings, blasting that he had “blood on his hands.”
On Monday, de Blasio visited with the Ramos and Liu families. “They are in tremendous pain,” de Blasio said, “and they are worried deeply.”
He urged that future protests be put off until after the officers’ funerals and until their families can begin to heal.
De Blasio said speaking with Ramos’ two teenage sons made him think of his own children.
“You have two teenage, good young men, who no longer have a father because of an assassin,” de Blasio said.
“I told them that I lost my own dad when I was 18, and that as painful and difficult as it is, families come together. People find a way forward,” he said. “I also told them that we would be there for them. That the NYPD family would be there for them and the people of New York City and the family of New York would be there for them — and we will be.”
Liu’s parents are mourning the loss of their only child, and his wife of just two months is facing the heartbreaking reality of suddenly losing her husband.
The attack on the officers was “an attack on every single New Yorker and we have to see it as such,” the mayor said.
The slain officers are “now our family and we will stand by them,” de Blasio said. “Our first obligation is to respect these families in mourning.”
He pushed back against his critics, calling Lynch’s remarks “wrong and mistaken.” And he accused the media of contributing to the atmosphere of tension between police and protesters.
Putting blame on anyone other than the gunman ignores the complexities of the relationship between City Hall and the police unions that has been decades in the making, Bratton said.
“Can you point out to me one mayor that has not been battling with the police unions in the last 50 years? … So the experience of this mayor, in terms of some cops not liking him, it’s nothing new. It’s part of life, it’s part of politics. And it is what it is. This is New York City. We voice our concerns and we voice our opinions,” Bratton said. “So what I suggest is … that we will engage in dialogue once we get our officers respectfully mourned and buried, and return to dialogue where we can hopefully resolve whatever differences are out there.”
Ramos’ family members remain united in their Christian faith, their strong sense of family and their belief in public service, the mayor said.
Ramos had been scheduled to graduate later Saturday afternoon from a community crisis chaplaincy program, according to the Rev. Marcos Miranda, president of the New York State Chaplain Task Force.
“He thought being a chaplain was something he could see himself doing as a full-time ministry when he retired from the NYPD,” Miranda said. “You just looked in his eyes and there was kindness all the way around.”
A quote on the slain officer’s Facebook page says, “If your way isn’t working, try God’s way.”
A funeral service for Ramos will be held on Saturday at Christ Tabernacle, the church he’d attended for nearly 14 years.
A statement on the church’s website described him as a family man who loved his wife and two sons and “always talked about his kids and how well they were doing athletically and academically.”
Liu’s family is waiting for others to come from China to work out the details of funeral arrangements, Bratton said.
In a statement released Monday night, his family said Liu was 12 when his parents emigrated with him in 1994, coming to the United States from Canton, China, in search of a better life.
He majored in accounting in college, but he opted for a different path, joining the NYPD in 2007. He was proud to serve as an officer, his family said, using his Chinese language skills whenever they were needed.
He got married in September and had been looking forward to having his own family.
Tears streamed downed family members’ faces as they stood before reporters in front of the family’s Brooklyn home Monday evening. His widow thanked members of the community for their support and sent condolences to the Ramos family.
“This is a difficult time for both of our families,” Pei Xia Chen said, “but we will stand together and get through this together.”