By Alexandra Cheney, Heather Grossmann and Nicole Bode
MANHATTAN — Police arrested and issued summonses to a total of 54 people — seven of them juveniles — in Times Square Sunday night after four people were shot when the tourist mecca became overrun with brawling crowds, the NYPD said.
None of the arrests were related to the shootings, which are still being investigated, police said.
The mass arrests came after “large groups of people” gathered in Times Square, sparking a melee that left a 21-year-old man shot in the leg, two teenage women shot in the arm and the leg, and a 21-year-old woman shot in the face with a BB gun, police said.
Police said they were investigating the possible role of gangs in the incident and Mayor Michael Bloomberg referred to the mayhem as "a bunch of gang members wilding."
The fights reportedly broke out just before 11 p.m. and lasted over an hour as police on foot, scooters and horseback canvassed the area. Reports said the violence spanned the area from Herald Square, to Times Square and farther north towards Rockefeller Center.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said that Sunday's violence in Times Squared turned the spot into "ground zero for the citywide spike in crime."
"We need to get in front of this growing epidemic before we find ourselves reliving the bad old days of the 1970s," Stringer said.
Times Square area store owners said they increased security or shut early because Easter Sundays are known among many as "Gang Initiation Day." Youth reportedly gather after the annual auto show at the Javits Center, which often takes place the same weekend as Easter, and then head over to Times Square.
"Police blocked everything. People were not coming in, so we closed early," said Guillermo, a Quiksilver clothing employee who did not want to give his last name. He said the store, which is located at 42nd Street and 7th Ave., shut at 11 p.m. instead of its scheduled midnight close.
Champs Sports in Times Square hired an additional two security guards for the weekend, according to general manager Gabriel Ortiz. He said that hiring the additional muscle over Easter Weekend has become customary.
"It’s always crazy and even though I didn’t work yesterday, I was always calling in to make sure everything was alright,” Ortiz said.
Bashir Saleh, 52, has run a coffee cart on the corner of West 43rd and 7th avenue for 15 years. When he arrived for his 4:30 a.m. shift this morning, Saleh said there were still police cars and fire trucks in Times Square cleaning up last night's mayhem.
“Every year on Easter Sunday the gangs come to recruit new people,” Saleh said of last night's violence. “I knew their routine. It’s kind of like a ritual where they come to recruit new people.
“I feel sorry for the young kids because all year long it’s peaceful and beautiful except then.”
Fred N. has worked in New York City for 19 years and is currently employed at Phantom of Broadway Gifts on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue. He said when his shift ended at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, the tension in the area was already building.
“There was a lot of commotion going on, a lot of cops, and it looked scary,” he said. “There were cop cars, fire trucks and a lot of sirens, which is a shame because this is a holy weekend for some people.”
Kathy Quinn was visiting from Ireland and took in a play before heading to the Hard Rock Café in Times Square Sunday night at about 9 p.m.
“A bunch of kids came running by and into the café and the police followed. We were conscious of it but they seemed so young that we weren’t really scared," Quinn said. "We were, however, a bit wary of all the police pressure and presence in Times Square.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently blamed budget cuts for rising crime rates, which included 16 murders in Manhattan over the first 11 weeks of the year compared to just nine over the same span in 2009, an uptick of nearly 78 percent.