Hammer-wielding suspect linked to earlier attacks

Crime scene investigators inspect a hammer used in an attack on a police officer on May 13, 2015 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)
Crime scene investigators inspect a hammer used in an attack on a police officer on May 13, 2015 in New York, N.Y. The attacker was shot twice by a police officer and is currently in the hospital undergoing medical treatment. 

The hammer-wielding suspect believed to have attacked four strangers in separate ambushes within a span of six hours in Manhattan earlier this week was shot in midtown Wednesday after trying to hit two NYPD officers on the street, authorities and a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation tell NBC 4 New York.

The suspect, an image of whom had been captured by surveillance cameras and released by police Tuesday, was shot near West 37th Street and Eighth Avenue around 10 a.m., authorities said. Police and multiple sources initially said the man was dead, though a senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the situation later said he was taken to the hospital in extremely critical condition. 

The officers he tried to attack were not significantly injured, and the confrontation was captured on an NYPD camera, the senior law enforcement official said. The video shows the male and female officer approach the suspect near a corner; the suspect abruptly turns and swings the hammer at the female officer, the official said. She backs up and the male officer shoots the suspect in the street.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said at a preliminary news briefing Wednesday that the male officer fired four shots at the suspect, and the suspect was hit twice. It wasn't clear where on the body the suspect was shot, but the law enforcement official said he was undergoing surgery at Bellevue Hospital. Another briefing was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

A silver hammer with a black handle similar to the one described in the series of attacks Monday was recovered at the scene. Heavy traffic delays were expected in the area while authorities investigated.

Nick Cearley, who said he was on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 37th Street at the time of the shooting, said he heard gunshots and ran for cover. In an email, he called the experience "one of the scariest and terrifying mornings in NYC to date."

Authorities had been looking for the suspect after identifying him Tuesday through facial recognition, an NYPD source said. The suspect, identified by a law enforcement official as David Baril, has previous arrests for assault, weapons possession and drug possession, the official said. He is also believed to have a history of mental illness.

The suspect attacked two women with a hammer in separate ambushes within minutes of each other near Union Square Monday, and NBC 4 New York first reported Tuesday that authorities believed he was behind two similar attacks that occurred in Manhattan earlier that day.

All four victims were attacked in Manhattan within a span of five hours, the sources said. The suspect is believed to have first attacked a 20-year-old man with a hammer near Sixth Avenue and 35th Street shortly before 2 p.m. Monday, the sources said. He refused medical attention at the scene.

About three hours later, police sources say a suspect believed to be the same man swung a hammer at the head of a 34-year-old woman in Madison Square Park, near 27th Street and Madison Avenue. The sources say authorities are trying to determine whether the head of the hammer actually hit the woman or the suspect's hand hit her as he brought down the weapon. Her condition wasn't known.

The attacks near Union Square unfolded in a span of 10 minutes between 7:36 p.m. and 7:46 p.m. Monday and were committed by a man fitting the description of the suspect who menaced the woman on Madison Avenue earlier, the sources said.

One of those victims, a 28-year-old woman, was sitting on a bench in the park when she saw the suspect looking at her, police said. When she looked back, he took a silver hammer out of his bag and struck her, according to police.

The other woman attacked in that short time span, who is 33, was walking on West 17th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues when the stranger approached her from behind and hit her in the back of the head with the hammer, police said.

The woman on West 17th Street was taken to a hospital with a scalp injury, authorities said.

Both women attacked near Union Square were treated at Lenox Hill Hospital and released. 

Pei-Sze Cheng  contributed to this report. 

This story originally appeared on NBC News New York