39 years ago on December 22nd, 1984
Bernhard Goetz shoots four men on a subway car, seriously wounding them during what was either a panhandling or robbery attempt
The shooting brought to light the ongoing problem of crime in the subway, and was significantly covered in local tabloids, where Goetz was initially praised for fighting back against crime and was compared to the movie 'Death Wish', which bore a striking similarity to Goetz's shooting. In 'Death Wish', Charles Bronson's character takes a vigilante approach to fighting crime in New York after his wife is violently murdered, including a scene where he guns down muggers in a subway train.
Goetz would become known as the 'Subway Vigilante' even before his true identity became known nine days later, when he turned himself in.
Varying eyewitness accounts of the shooting made it difficult to sort out what exactly had happened leading up to the shooting and how it had taken place, including crucial details concerning how one man was shot who was left paralyzed from the confrontation.
The shooting took place just past the 14th Street station on a moving downtown '2' Train. It was the exchange between them that led to the shooting that has mostly remained a mystery. Either they were panhandling and asked him for a small amount of money, after which he took the opportunity to shoot them, or they were surrounding him and attempting to mug him, after which he defended himself, albeit with an illegal gun. Three screwdrivers were found at the scene by paramedics, but the men claimed they were used to break into arcade machines and were not used to threaten Goetz. After the shooting, Goetz ran from the train into the tunnel, exiting at Chambers Street and fleeing north out the city in a rental car. He surrendered himself to police in Concord, New Hampshire on December 30th and was returned to the city in January. Speaking to police, Goetz denied that the shooting was premeditated, but did say "My intention was to murder them, to hurt them, to make them suffer as much as possible." Three years after the shooting, Goetz's trial ended when he was found innocent of attempted murder and was only sentenced for criminal possession of a weapon.
PIX11 did a documentary on the shooting as part of their Only in New York series that can be seen below: