NEW YORK — A man authorities say attacked seven Asian women this past weekend was arrested after a pair of guards at a Midtown Manhattan library recognized him from surveillance footage the NYPD released, officials said Thursday.
Steven Zajonc, a 28-year-old living in Midtown, was arrested on hate crime charges Wednesday night in connection with the attacks, which occurred in the span of two hours on Manhattan’s east side on Sunday, police said.
Early Wednesday morning, New York Public Library guard Roshanta Williams, who works at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in Midtown, realized the suspect that police were searching for in connection with the assaults looked like a patron who frequented the branch, the NYPL said in a press release.
Williams ran the suspicion by senior NYPL guard Lt. Elmirel Cephas, who agreed, the release said. Hours later, Cephas spotted Zajonc walking into the library, felt certain he was the man in the NYPD’s surveillance footage and called 911, the NYPL said.
After Zajonc locked himself inside a single stall bathroom on the library’s seventh floor, Cephas and the library’s other guards monitored the situation until the police arrived, according to the release.
Cephas, who lives in Brooklyn, has worked at the library for 22 years, the release noted.
“Our guards have the extremely challenging job, especially under recent circumstances, of keeping our branches safe and welcoming for all New Yorkers,” Iris Weinshall, the library’s chief operating officer, said in a statement.
“They do this extremely well every day, but today went above and beyond to help the NYPD keep our streets safer,” Weinshall added. “We are so proud (but not surprised) of their quick thinking and good work.”
Zajonc is charged with hate crime assault, hate crime attempted assault, aggravated harassment and harassment, police said. He faces seven counts of each charge.
Police said all seven of the incidents happened between 6:30 p.m. and 8:40 p.m. Sunday.
In the first incident, near Madison Avenue and East 30th street, police said Zajonc approached a 57-year-old woman and struck her in the face with a closed fist.
Ten minutes later, on 5th Avenue, police said he struck again, this time hitting a 25-year-old woman in the face and back of her arm.
Five minutes later, authorities said he punched a 21-year-old woman in the face, sending her to the hospital. Just before 7 p.m., near Irving Place and East 17th Street, police said another 25-year-old woman was hit in the face.
Police said he then elbowed a 19-year-old woman, and then another 25-year-old woman, both in the head.
The final attack happened near Broadway and East 8th Street, where he shoved a 20-year-old woman to the ground, authorities said.
🚨WANTED-ASSAULTS (Hate Crime): 2/27/22 from 6:30PM to 8:37PM, Seven incidents in various Manhattan South Precincts. In all 7 cases the suspect punched Asian female victims. Any info call us at 800-577-TIPS or anonymously post a tip to https://t.co/TRPPY5zHV2 Reward UP to $3,500 pic.twitter.com/NJu3zTtYDe— NYPD Crime Stoppers (@NYPDTips) March 2, 2022
Mary Wang, a member of Concerned Citizens of East Broadway, which works to address safety concerns in Chinatown, told NY1 her "heart just aches" hearing about the attacks.
“How many people need to get hurt?" Wang asked.
State Senator John Liu said there is no one solution to ending violence against Asians. But he said education in city and state schools can address some misconceptions about Asian culture.
“'These people aren’t real Americans, so we can attack them, and it doesn’t really matter.' These are false perceptions and stereotypes,” Liu said.
Wang believes the community needs to continue to come together until they are heard by the mayor and other elected officials.
“We keep coming out and we keep trying to ask for, like, please come and let's have a talk because we know we have a part in solving this big issue,” she said.
Zajonc's attorney information wasn't immediately available Thursday.