Harrowing surveillance footage released by the NYPD on Wednesday shows the moment a Bushwick night club went up in flames in a suspected act of arson that officials are now investigating as a possible hate crime, police said.
The Sunday night fire left two people hospitalized at Rash, a queer-friendly nightclub on Willoughby and Myrtle avenues. Witnesses said that just a handful of people were inside the venue when a man in his 20s wearing a hoodie and jeans began pouring gasoline on the floor.
Those accounts were confirmed in a newly released video, which shows the suspect emptying a gas can on the floor of the venue, then setting the pool of liquid ablaze. Flames shot up in an instant, nearly reaching the ceiling of the venue.
“It was really terrifying. I was downstairs and came up and saw that,” said Tyler Glenn, a 25-year-old bartender who was trapped in the fire and suffered second degree burns to their face while trying to escape. “It happened so fast.”
At a press conference on Wednesday, Chief of Detectives James Essig said the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force was helping to investigate the incident, noting that the bar was frequented by LGBTQ patrons.
Police also released a photo showing the suspect with a red container purchasing gas from a nearby gas station prior to the blaze. The motivation for the crime remains unknown, Essig added.
But the fire has stoked fears of a pattern of attacks on queer nightlife spaces in recent months, with many pointing to recent incidents at Bossa Nova Civic Club and C’Mon Everybody.
“This isn’t the first time it has happened,” Janus Rose, an electronic music producer who performs in Bushwick, told Gothamist earlier this week. “It’s terrifying to realize that this kind of violence is becoming a pattern in our community.”