NEW YORK — A Cuban refugee wielding a two-foot sword went berserk today on the Staten Island ferry carrying tourists and commuters in New York Harbor, killing a man and a woman and wounding 12 other people before a retired policeman stopped him at gunpoint.
Acting Police Chief Richard Condon said the attacker, identified as Juan Gonzales, 43, a boat person from Cuba, ran around the boat chanting in Spanish and slashing and stabbing people with a ceremonial sword because "God told him to do it."
"At first I saw a sword and thought it was plastic," said passenger Mitchell Silver, 26, of Brooklyn. "Then he said a chant and stuck the deckhand. There were a lot of people cut--a lot of people with blood all over.
"It was like it wasn't real," Silver said. "It wasn't really happening."
Condon said a man and a woman, both commuters, were killed. Their names were not immediately released.
A couple from Kansas and a man from Austria, apparently in the city for the Fourth of July Liberty Weekend festivities, were among those wounded on the boat carrying 75 people, including tourists snapping pictures of the Statue of Liberty.
Victor Ross of the Transportation Department said first word of the attack came from the boat's radio at 8:40 a.m., just after the ferry had passed the statue.
The attack began on the bridge deck of the three-decked Samuel I. Newhouse and the killer worked his way down to a lower deck, Ross said.
The ferry, on its way from Manhattan to Staten Island, kept going to its berth at the St. George Terminal on the island, where it landed at 8:55 a.m. with police and ambulances waiting, Ross said.
The crazed slasher pulled the ornate sword out of a red crushed-velvet case and ran about on the two decks stabbing victims at random for several minutes.
Retired New York City Police Officer Edward del Pino, 55, finally stopped him. As the slasher was jamming the sword into a woman victim, Del Pino fired a shot. The slasher dived behind a bench, and Del Pino held him at bay until the ferry docked and other officers came to help.
Condon said Gonzales, who came to New York in March, 1977, from Cuba, most recently was living at a Manhattan shelter for homeless men.
Mayor Edward I. Koch, learning of the bloody assault, rushed to Staten Island to visit the victims at two hospitals where they were taken.
"In a sort of grotesque way it is--ah, I don't know how to put it--that it didn't happen on the Fourth of July made the weekend perfect," Koch said.
"It's just sad that it happened following the Fourth of July," the mayor said.
The four-day holiday weekend had been virtually problem free. Police said the most serious incident took place in Queens when an elderly man picked up a live firecracker in his backyard and blew off part of his hand.