Suspect Erika Menendez outside a police station in New York. (AP)
New York, Dec. 30: Former Calcuttan Sunando Sen, run over by a train on Thursday after being pushed onto the tracks at a New York subway station, was the victim of a hate crime spurred by a desire to avenge the 9/11 attacks, it emerged today.
A 31-year-old woman arrested and charged with the murder on Saturday told police she had selected her victim because she believed him to be a Muslim or a Hindu, district attorney Richard A. Brown said.
In a statement, Brown quoted Erika Menendez as having told the police, “in sum and substance”, that: “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims. Ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers, I’ve been beating them up.”
Menendez conflated the Muslim and Hindu faiths in her comments to the police and in her target for attack, officials said. Sen, 46, was born in India and was raised a Hindu. After years of saving money, the immigrant had opened a small copying business in New York this year.
A.R. Suman, a Muslim and one of three roommates who shared a small first-floor apartment with Sen in Elmhurst, said he and Sen often discussed religion.
Although they were of different faiths, Suman said, he admired the respect that Sen showed for those who saw the world differently from him.
Suman said he once asked Sen why he was not more active in his faith and it resulted in a long philosophical discussion.
“He was so gentle,” Suman said. “He said in this world a lot of people are dying, killing over religious things.”
Sen had studied at Delhi University and got a scholarship to New York University, where he graduated. Both his parents are dead and he was unmarried and had no children.
Sen “was allegedly shoved from behind and had no chance to defend himself”, Brown said. “Beyond that, the hateful remarks allegedly made by the defendant and which precipitated the defendant’s actions should never be tolerated by a civilised society.”
Brown said he had no information on the defendant’s criminal or mental history. “It will be up to the court to determine if she is fit to stand trial,” he said.
Menendez was expected to be arraigned by Sunday morning. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Since she has been charged with murder as a hate crime, the minimum sentence she faces is 20 years and not 15 years, prosecutors said.
On Saturday night, Menendez, wearing a dark blue hooded sweatshirt, was escorted from the 112th Precinct to a waiting car by three detectives. Greeted by camera flashes and dozens of reporters, she let out a loud, unintelligible moan. She did not respond to reporters’ questions.
The attack occurred around 8pm on Thursday at the 40th Street-Lowery Street station in Sunnyside.
Sen was looking out over the tracks from the elevated subway station when a woman approached him from behind and shoved him onto the tracks, according to the police. Sen never saw her, the police said.
The woman fled the station, running down two flights of stairs and down the street. By the next morning, a brief and grainy black-and-white video of the woman who the police said was behind the attack was being broadcast on news programmes.
Patrol officers picked up Menendez after someone who had seen the video on television spotted her on a Brooklyn street and called 911, said chief police spokesperson Paul J. Browne.
An Indian living in the US for 12 years was found dead in a store he owned in Cincinnati, Ohio, around 11pm on Saturday local time (10.30am today Indian time), a PTI report said.
Goli Venkat Reddy, 48, was found lying on the floor bleeding from his nose by his wife Kavitha, a software engineer, who went to check at the store when he did not return home and calls to his cell phone went unanswered. The couple have a son.
Kavitha called police, who declared Reddy, an Andhra Pradesh native, dead and sent the body for autopsy. A case of suspicious death has been registered.