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Updated, 1:32 p.m.
Three men were found dead in a parked car across from a Columbia building on 122nd Street Thursday evening. The apparent cause of death was a single gunshot wound to each, but no shots were reported to the police, who had not named any suspects as of midnight Thursday.
The news rattled Morningside Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan's second-safest precinct. The men were discovered in a BMW parked on the north side of 122nd Street between Broadway and Claremont Avenue—a block bordered by Columbia's Knox Hall and the Union Theological Seminary to the south, and by the Manhattan School of Music to the north.
At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, a passerby noticed two men in the front seat of the 2009 BMW LI, both of them wearing white T-shirts drenched in blood. He flagged down a police car on Claremont Avenue, according to the New York Police Department's chief spokesperson, Paul Browne, who briefed reporters at the scene on Thursday night. Browne said the two men appeared to be shot in the head or neck.
Police found a third man dead in the backseat of the car, who appeared to be shot in the left temple. The victims were identified on Friday afternoon as Heriberto Suazo, 26, Luis Catalan, 25, and Amaury Rodriguez, 30, a police spokesperson said. All of them were Hispanic.
Police sources told Spectator they had heard the killing was part of a botched drug deal but had no other information.
Police said Thursday night that the motives for the shootings were unclear, and that they didn't yet know exactly where or when the men died. No windows or doors of the car appeared to be broken—except for a small dent on the left of the windshield—but Browne said that police do not suspect a murder-suicide. The car had been parked on the block for no more than an hour by the time it was discovered, but nobody—including students in a 6 p.m. class in Knox—reported hearing shots to the police, and no 911 call was placed, Browne said.
He said that police were in possession of surveillance footage—both Columbia and MSM have security cameras on the block—but he would not say what the footage revealed about the case.
The car had a New York license plate reading FSM7929, but it did not match the vehicle. The car also sported temporary decals—stickers on the windshield indicating that the car had probably been purchased recently.
Police officers did not enter the vehicle until nearly 10 p.m., at which point they blocked sightlines to the car. Crime scene investigators photographed the bodies as they were found, before removing them and testing the car for forensic evidence. By midnight, police had left the scene.
The usually quiet corner was hectic on Thursday evening, as dozens of media outlets descended upon the scene. The deaths were the top story on the three major networks' 11 o'clock broadcasts.
Columbia’s emergency text messaging service alerted most students to the news a few minutes after 8 p.m. A follow-up text message after 10 p.m. said that while the investigation is continuing, “there is no apparent involvement by members of the Columbia community.”
Vice President for Public Safety Jim McShane told Spectator that, with the exception of notifying students that evening classes would be canceled during a blizzard two years ago, this is the first time the emergency texting system has been used for a "spontaneous event.”
Local residents and Columbia students were shocked to hear about the deaths.
“It’s New York—nothing surprises me. But you know, when it hits close to home, you’re alarmed," said Amir Arroyo, 37, who has lived on West 123rd Street his whole life. “You don’t want to hear of anyone getting their life taken or getting shot.”
“You don’t expect it to happen here. There’s only one strip of residence," he added. "You’ve got colleges, a church, so, yeah, it’s shocking."
Jonathan Gordon, a second-year student at the Law School, was also alarmed by the shootings.
“I wouldn’t have thought that this was a potentially dangerous area," he said. "It seems like a quiet neighborhood—certainly some place I would still feel safe walking.”
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Correction: An earlier version of this story misquoted Jonathan Gordon as saying that he "wouldn't still feel safe" in the area. Gordon said that he "would still feel safe" walking there. Spectator regrets the error.