NYPD official: Hatchet perpetrator intended to commit act of terror

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Friday, October 24, 2014
New details on suspect in NYC hatchet attack
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Kristin Thorne has the latest on the man shot by police in Thursday's incident, Zale Thompson.

JAMAICA (WABC) -- New York City police shot and killed a man they say critically injured a patrol officer with a hatchet in Jamaica, Queens, Thursday. Police Commissioner William Bratton is calling it an act of terror.

"I'm very comfortable this was a terrorist attack," he said. "We will attempt to confirm...this the 16th (terror attack since 9/11), where we are definitively to bring closure to it. As I'm looking at this, at this particular point in time, I would be comfortable, our preliminary evaluation is that this was a terrorist act."

Federal officials, however, were not willing to go so far, saying they have yet to make a determination of the hatchet attack was, in fact, terrorism. Their leading theory continues to be he was anti-cop and anti-government, and there's some indication the suspect was recently in Ferguson, Missouri, attending anti-police rallies.

The incident, which police say happened without warning, took place on a commercial strip of Jamaica Avenue and 162nd Street around 2 p.m.

Commissioner Bratton said a group of four rookie uniformed officers were on patrol as part of the NYPD Operation Impact initiative when a freelance photographer asked them to stand for a photograph.

They were standing near the corner when the assailant, 32-year-old Zale Thompson, approached them and started swinging the hatchet without uttering a word. One officer, 25-year-old Kenneth Healey, was struck in the head, while a second, 24-year-old Joseph Meeker, was struck in the arm.

The other two officers, who suffered minor injuries, opened fire on the hatchet-wielding man.

"As he continued his assault, the remaining two officers then fired multiple times on the armed suspect, who fell to the ground dropping the hatchet," Bratton said. "The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.

Thompson was rushed to Jamaica Medical Center, where he was listed in critical but stable condition after undergoing surgery. Meeker was treated and released Friday morning.

A female bystander, 29, was struck in the lower back by the gunfire. She was also rushed to Jamaica Medical Center, where she underwent surgery and is listed in critical but stable condition.

Both officers were reportedly conscious and alert while being transported.

Zale Thompson had a long history filled with what sources describe as hate speech aimed at what he apparently saw as the white government power structure in America, suggesting it was time to rise up in opposition. Police say he converted to Islam two years ago and is known as a recluse with a history of drug use and depression.

"We believe at this time he acted alone," Bratton said. "Self-radicalized, self-directed."

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce added that the investigation has not uncovered affiliations with any person or group, but Deputy Commissioner John Miller said Thompson intended to commit an act of terror.

"I think at this point, from a preliminary standpoint, you ask the question was this an act of terrorism?" he said. "It appears, at this point, that it was the suspect's intent. We still have a little more investigative work to do to determine if we can document that in another way."

Thompson served in the Navy from February 2001 to August 2003, assigned to units based in Port Hueneme, California. He was involuntarily discharged. In 2003, he was arrested in Ventura, California, and pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident. He does not appear to have a criminal record in New York State.

He graduated in 2008 from College of New Rochelle Harlem Campus, and he worked at the college from 2008 to 2012 as a staff assistant for tech support. He left the college in November of 2012.

His grandfather, Ralph Thompson, spoke exclusively with Eyewitness News, saying the family is still trying make sense of everything.

"Very shocked, his father not well," he said.

Ralph Thompson had no answer as to why his grandson attacked the officers.

Igeoma Simon knew Zale Thompson from the neighborhood in Hollis.

"He was a great guy," he said. "He was very positive. He helped me stay physically active at the park...I don't really know what would drive him to that."

Some sections of his Facebook page do appear inspired by Islamist ideas, sources said, though they do not believe he was solely inspired by ISIS.

"We've heard the same rumors that were spreading, but we don't have definite information," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "When we do, we will disseminate it."

When asked if Zale Thompson had ever mentioned his interest in radical Islam to his family, Ralph declined to answer.

"The police said we're not supposed to talk to nobody," he said.

At his news conference, Bratton held up a picture of the hatchet he said was used in the attack, approximately 18.5 inches in length.

He was asked about a possible terrorist connection in light of Wednesday's shooting of a soldier in Canada, and responded that it could not be ruled out.

"The heightened concerns relative to that type of assault based on what's just happened in Canada and recent events in Israel are certainly one of the things that first comes to mind," he said. "But that's what the investigation will attempt to determine."

The freelance photographer is providing police with photos of the incident as part of the investigation.