The weapons in photographs taken in a Staten Island parking lot that spurred the closure of several bridge lanes as police searched New Jersey-bound cars appear to be paintball guns, NYPD Deputy Commissioner John J. Miller said this afternoon.
“As part of the ongoing investigation, NYPD firearms experts conducted a forensic examination of the photographs. The preliminary opinion of these experts was that the weapons in the pictures strongly resemble replicas of firearms used in ‘paintball’ games,” he said. “Interviews conducted by NYPD and FBI investigators in New Jersey have revealed that the registered owner of one of the vehicles indicated that he was planning to go paintball shooting with friends today.”
The guns caused a stir on social media and prompted a BOLO—be on the lookout—alert for law enforcement after a retired NYPD officer snapped photos of what the NYPD deemed “suspicious activity” in a parking lot in Staten Island’s Midland Beach neighborhood.
“The complainant photographed this activity and supplied the pictures to the NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau for investigation. The images show a man and a woman handling what appear to be semi-automatic rifles and pointing it in the windows of two cars. In some of the pictures, they are smiling,” Mr. Miller said in a statement.
After the BOLO was issued, the NYPD closed lanes on bridges leaving Staten Island, including the Outerbridge Crossing, to search for cars in the photograph that had New Jersey license plates. At the same time, Ft. Wadsworth, a historic armed forces base that is still home to members of the U.S. Coast Guard, was locked down—though Coast Guard officials did not say why, and the lock-down has since been listed.
The ensuing investigation has caused major traffic headaches on Staten Island, according to social media updates, with lane closures coming during rush hour and on a Friday when many Islanders are likely trying to head to the Jersey Shore via the Outerbridge Crossing.
Here’s the earlier version of this breaking news story below:
A lane on the Outerbridge Crossing was closed this afternoon as the police stopped traffic and search cars looking for “unknown individuals armed with what appear to be assault rifles.” The Outerbridge spans the Arthur Kill and connects Staten Island to Perth Amboy, NJ.
A reliable source inside the anti-terror offices of local authorities has told the Observer that the NYPD has issued a “BOLO-Officer Safety Alert.” (BOLO stands for Be On the Lookout.) The photos, which were taken by a retired NYPD member, show people holding two assault rifles in a parking lot in the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island; one of the people appears to be a woman in a yellow al-amira or shayla. The iconic Verrazano Bridge is visible over her shoulder in the photos.
The BOLO was issued a day after Kuwaiti-born Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez killed four Marines and wounded at least three other people in shootings at a US Naval Reserve Center and a recruiting office in Chattanooga, Tenn., before being shot to death by authorities. When the BOLO was first issued, the police also locked down Ft. Wadsworth, a former US military installation on Staten Island that still serves as U.S. Coast Guard housing, but that precaution has since been lifted. The police activity around Ft. Wadsworth reflects heightened scrutiny of domestic military facilities in the wake of threats of so-called “lone wolf attacks.”
A source said, “They closed it [Outerbridge] and Ft. Wadsworth looking for these guys. My friend is there doing the checks so he told me when they were heading out a couple hours ago.” The police are advising officers who spot either of the two vehicles, both of which have New Jersey plates, “approach with extreme caution and contact Intelligence Bureau Operations immediately.”
The BOLO mentions that one of the presumed assault rifles “MAY be a paintball gun.” Among tense law enforcement authorities, a joke has been making the rounds all afternoon: “If that’s not paintball, that’s a problem.”