Two security guards from the New York Public Library (NYPL) are receiving praise for helping police arrest a man accused of assaulting seven Asian women in Manhattan on Sunday.
Steven Zajonc, 28, was captured on surveillance cameras as he traveled to carry out all seven attacks in a span of just two hours. He was seen wearing a light blue T-shirt, dark-colored pants and dark-colored shoes, and carrying a multicolored backpack.
🚨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
After releasing his images, police nabbed Zajonc at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation branch of the New York Public Library on Wednesday. Two security guards — Roshanta Williams and Lt. Elmirel Cephas — aided in his arrest.
Williams first recognized the then-unidentified Zajonc as a regular at the library. She alerted Cephas, a senior guard, and they waited for the 28-year-old to arrive at his usual spot.
“We waited about two to three hours, and he came in just like we thought he would. We let him walk in,” Cephas, the library’s senior investigator, told Spectrum News NY1. “I followed him with my eyes. We saw him walk up the stairs on our mezzanine level.”
Zajonc then headed for the elevator. As soon as he stepped in, Cephas returned to his office and followed him on the cameras.
Cephas said the man often used a bathroom in the library where he would freshen up and change into a pair of slippers. Police later reported that Zajonc is homeless.
While Zajonc was in the bathroom, Cephas called 911, and police arrested him shortly after.
Cephas, who has worked at the library for 22 years, said he was surprised to find out that the suspect in Sunday’s attacks was a regular visitor.
“It was a little surprising that it was him,” Cephas told Gothamist. “He comes in a lot. He’s usually kind of quiet and [keeps] to himself.”
Zajonc has since been charged with seven counts of assault and attempted assault, which are all classified as hate crimes. He is also facing seven counts of harassment and aggravated harassment.
It remains unknown why he targeted Asian women. In an interview, his mother claimed that he actually appreciated Asian culture and even planned to learn how to speak Japanese.
Cephas said he is glad that Zajonc is now in custody.
“I don’t like anyone disrespecting anyone else or any type of discrimination, so since he was the one that was doing it, I like the fact that he was not able to do it any further,” he told Spectrum News.
Iris Weinshall, the NYPL’s chief operating officer, praised Williams and Cephas’ actions in a statement.
“Our guards have the extremely challenging job, especially under recent circumstances, of keeping our branches safe and welcoming for all New Yorkers. They do this extremely well every day, but today went above and beyond to help the NYPD keep our streets safer,” Weinshall said.
The guards have also been hailed as heroes on Twitter.
“Roshanta Williams and Elmirel Cephas are NYC heroes! Williams recognized the violent predator who assaulted and brutalized Asian women, and they both captured him. Thank you both for your service to the public,” one user wrote.
Featured Image via CBS News (left) and New York Public Library (right)