MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Three men were found shot to death inside a car Thursday evening on West 122nd Street near Claremont Avenue, right on the edge of the Columbia University campus, police said.
The three men, who police said were all in their twenties, were found dead inside a dark gray 2009 BMW LI just after 6:30 p.m., police and fire officials said.
"The premise that we're working on is that they were shot inside the car," NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne told reporters at the scene late Thursday night.
Two of the men were found in the front seat of the $88,000 car, were wearing white T-shirts and jeans that were soaked with blood, and suffered what appeared to be gunshot wounds in the head or neck, Browne said. The third man was sitting in the back seat, and appeared to be shot at least once to the left temple, he said. The man on the passenger side was wearing a Yankees cap, he noted.
There were no bullet holes in the car's side windows, but some slight damage to the passenger's side of the front windshield, Browne said.
It was not immediately clear where the triple shooting occurred or exactly when the men were killed, but officials said no gunshot sounds had been reported. The victims' identities were not immediately released.
"We believe the car had not been parked there for an extended amount of time, perhaps an hour or so," said Browne, who had earlier mentioned that early reports said the car's hood was still warm when police arrived.
"There were no reports of shots fired, and no 911 calls," he added.
The man who alerted police to the triple homicide was walking past the BMW, which has tinted windows, Thursday evening when he spotted what he believed were two dead men in the car, Browne said. The man then hurried to tell police, Browne said.
Police said it was unknown whether or not the men were students, but a text message sent out by Columbia adminstrators to students stated "there is no apparent involvement by members of the Columbia community."
A Columbia class that had been in session at the Knox Hall, at 606 West 122nd St., right near where the car was parked, reported no street noise that was cause for alarm.
"One class let out around 7:30 p.m.," said Browne. "There were no reports from them of any shots fired," he added.
Police were taking photographs of the scene at 10:30 p.m., and a forensics team would be examining the car, Browne said.
Police were looking into the New York license plates on the vehicle, but Browne said the registration on the car was temporary, the type associated with a new vehicle purchase.
Police were also reviewing footage from the area's security cameras, Browne said.
The BMW was parked on West 122nd Street between Claremont Avenue and Broadway, near the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Manhattan School of Music. The block remained sealed off and closed to traffic Thursday evening, and police had set up a large blue tarp to block the view of the bodies.
The West 122nd Street block and Knox Hall is home to many Sociology, Middle East Studies and Economics classrooms for Columbia.
Some Columbia University students said they were shocked by the attack, which apparently occurred in broad daylight.
"I'm feeling shaken," said Rainkka Corprew, a student at Columbia's Teachers College, as her eyes filled with tears. "I'm having a hard time processing this. This is really scary."
Simon Jerome, 20, who will be a senior at Columbia this fall and lives a block away from the shooting, said he is accustomed to hearing opera music drifting out over the block from the Manhattan School of Music, not the hubbub he heard Thursday night.
"I absolutely feel safe in this area," said Jerome, who takes an Arabic class on the West 122nd Street block where the men were found. "This must be a freak accident... This is really creepy."
A senior at Columbia, who noted that there's a dorm hall just three blocks away on Claremont and West 119th Street, said he was shaken.
"I'm at a little loss for words, especially because it happened in broad daylight," said Michael Zhong, 21. "I'm surprised that this happened."