Michelle Alyssa Go loved New York and traveling. She had celebrated her 40th birthday in December with a holiday in the Maldives, a neighbor said, and was looking forward to work-related business trips.
On Saturday morning, Ms Go left her Upper West Side apartment and was about to board a subway in Times Square when a 61-year-old man pushed her from behind, police said, pushing her to died in front of a southbound R train.
Screams echoed through the station just after 9:30 a.m., a witness said, and the killing sent shockwaves through a town already on high alert nearly two years after a pandemic. Subway usage is half of what it was before March 2020, and commuters who have pleaded for help from elected officials regularly complain about encounters with people who appear homeless and mentally ill.
In another year, less aware of the virus, Ms Go’s taste for travel might have kept her away from New York for a three-day holiday weekend, said Olivia Henderson, her neighbor from next door in a building on West 72nd Street.
“She was incredibly smart,” Ms Henderson said, choking back tears as she spoke on Sunday. “She was just the person who got it all right.”
Reserved but friendly, Ms Go renewed her lease during the pandemic rather than leave, said Ms Henderson, committed to the city she had called home after completing a master’s in business administration at the Stern School of Business from New York University.
“I guarantee you she was just doing something completely normal,” Ms Henderson said, “and that’s why it’s so traumatic.”
Ms. Go earned an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and worked in mergers and acquisitions for Deloitte Consulting, according to her LinkedIn page.
A Deloitte managing director, Jonathan Gandal, said the company is “doing everything in its power to support family and friends during this terribly painful time”.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened,” he added, “by the loss of our colleague in this senseless act of violence.”
While working in finance, she had also volunteered for 10 years for the New York Junior League, coaching women and children on nutrition in an effort to stabilize at-risk and homeless families, said the president of the league, Dayna Barlow Cassidy, in a statement. While on a committee that focused on empowering young adults and teens, Ms. Go groomed candidates for job interviews, helped polish CVs and offered personal finance advice.
After the attack, Simon Martial, who served two prison terms for robbing taxi drivers while threatening to use a gun, took a train to Lower Manhattan, where he told station officers of Canal Street that he pushed a woman onto the tracks, police say.
Mr Martial, who police said was homeless, was undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at Bellevue Hospital on Sunday but is expected to be charged with murder, law enforcement officials said.
Mr. Martial had previously been deemed unfit to stand trial following a psychiatric evaluation in 2019, after being charged with drug possession near Washington Square Park, prosecutors said. The case was dismissed due to his mental state, they said.
He had been under the supervision of state prison officials until last August, as part of his sentence for a pair of holdups four years earlier, according to state prison records.
A spokesperson for the Legal Aid Society, which represented him in a 2017 case, declined to comment on Sunday on Mr Martial, who authorities said had been homeless since around 2004.
Just before the attack, Maria Coste-Weber, who lives near Hudson Yards, stood on the Times Square subway platform, waiting for a train to take her to a boxing class. She said she saw a man walking quickly towards the tracks with his arms outstretched.
“He started running with both of his hands in front of him, like, tackle,” Ms Coste-Weber said. “But it was so fast that no one realized what was happening until it was too late.”
Ms. Go stood near a group of women, preparing to board the train as it arrived at the station.
“She was turning her back on this crazy girl,” Ms. Coste-Weber said. “She never saw anything”
Ms Go was the second woman confronted by Mr Martial in the post, police said. Minutes before, another woman told police she had pulled away from Mr Martial, fearing he would push her onto the tracks.
During the pandemic, bias crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed. Although Ms Go is of Asian descent, police said there was no indication that she was being targeted because of her ethnicity.
She had moved into her one-bedroom apartment a block from Central Park about 18 months ago, Ms Henderson said, moving from a nearby building to an elevator in part to facilitate visits from her parents in California.
On the street where Ms. Go’s family lives in Fremont, Calif., in the East Bay area southeast of San Francisco, a steady stream of visitors arrived Sunday morning with food. A woman who opened the door to the split-level house asked for privacy and declined to comment.
Neighbors said they were shocked and saddened by the news.
“This family is a very beautiful family,” said Jitesh Shah, 50, who lives opposite the Gos.
Mrs Henderson and her husband placed a bouquet of hydrangeas and roses outside the door of Mrs Go’s apartment, wrapped in off-white ribbon which was the favorite toy of their cat Mimi, a pet Mrs Go regularly volunteered to watch. The trio shared an outdoor patio and had formed a strong bond during the pandemic.
“I was going to pick up the recycling and coming back an hour later after stopping to chat with Michelle,” Ms Henderson said.
She became known in her building for her wide, open smile and her generosity.
At Christmas, she left a neighbor a large box of chocolates with a thoughtful note. When she was in Long Island for work, she volunteered to stop at a nearby Ikea to pick up items for Mrs. Henderson.
“She was a very sweet, gentle woman,” said Hannah Epstein, who lived down the hall from Ms. Go. “So friendly.”
Ms Epstein, a lifelong New Yorker, said she once told Ms Go that she knew the young woman was out of town even before she was told. “You are too happy,” Ms Epstein recalled.
Cautious about contracting Covid-19, Ms Go mainly worked remotely from home. But she regularly took the subway to meet friends or attend spin exercise classes at TriBeCa, a studio where vaccinations were required and outdoor rooftop classes were offered, Ms Henderson said.
Ms. Go’s death came at a time when the rate of certain crimes has increased in the subway. The rate of criminal assaults in subways from 2021 to November was triple that of the same period in 2019. For those same periods, the rate of thefts per million passengers more than doubled.
In February 2021, after a man who lived in a homeless shelter stabbed four homeless people in and near subway stations, Mayor Bill de Blasio sent 500 additional police to patrol the system. In May, amid a new wave of attacks, Mr. de Blasio sent 250 more officers and said it would bring the number of police officers patrolling the subway system to the highest level in the history of the police transit bureau.
After taking office as mayor earlier this month, Eric Adams, a former transit police officer, joined New York Governor Kathy Hochul in announcing that officers would conduct more frequent sweeps and regular subway system riders and would work with homeless outreach teams to reassure current riders.
Forwarding Agents said there were six officers assigned to the Times Square station on Saturday, including two who were on the south side when Ms Go was pushed.
They also pointed out that serious crime in the system is at its lowest level in decades and major crime was at its lowest combined total in 25 years through November.
But ridership has also been much lower – still less than half of pre-pandemic levels – and the rate of violent crime per million weekday passengers has increased almost everywhere compared to 2019.
Ms Cassidy, of the Junior League, said she hoped Ms Go’s death would force the city to address the ‘lack of mental health and other supports for underserved communities’.
Mr Martial’s first known conviction stemmed from two robberies by taxi drivers in Manhattan, two hours apart in 1998.
In both cases, the drivers told police the robber got into their cab and reached into his jacket and pointed it at them as if he had a gun.
“I have a .38,” he told the second driver, according to the criminal complaint. “I just need a few dollars, so choose between life and death.”
Holly Secon contributed reporting from Fremont, California. Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.