The vicious mugging, caught on surveillance tape, has sparked outrage in a city where people are accustomed to hearing about strange and violent crimes. Police have launched an all-out manhunt, but it's not just the cops who want the villain's head.
"I could hold him, and let the woman beat him up," said Joe Sarju, 59, who lives in the Queens neighborhood where the attack occurred. "I'd love to beat him, but then they would lock me up."
Police have received about 1100 calls from people outraged and wanting to help, reports CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano.
"When you're over 100-years-old, people should be helping you cross the street, not punching you in the face," said CBS News The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "That's why so many people right here in New York would like to find this jerk, this thug."
The heartlessness of the March 4 attack is clearly conveyed on the grainy, black-and-white videotape, which has now been broadcast well beyond New York.
In it, 101-year-old Rose Morat is trying to leave her brick apartment building to go to church. The mugger, a man who looms over the senior citizen and is holding on to a bicycle, pretends to help her get through the vestibule.
Then, he turns, grabs Morat's head, delivers three hard punches to her face, and swipes her purse. The dazed victim tries to reach for her purse. That's when the mugger hits her again, pushing the woman and her walker to the ground.
He got away with $33 and Morat's house keys. She suffered a fractured cheekbone and spent time in the hospital. The attack didn't break Morat's spirit, though: She has said in the days since that if she'd been just a bit younger, she'd have gone after the guy.
"I'm a very strong woman," she said. "I've been that way my whole life."
"The elderly are particularly vulnerable when it comes to assaults by strangers, robberies by strangers. In fact, they have a greater chance of getting killed in such attacks because of their vulnerability," Northeastern University criminal justice professor James Alan Fox told CBS News.
The NYPD said it has assigned dozens of detectives to the case and shown every uniformed officer in the city the surveillance video. Police are canvassing residents in nearby buildings and talking to people in area businesses.
They believe the same man also attacked 85-year-old Solange Elizee, another neighborhood resident, shortly after robbing Morat. Elizee received facial cuts and bruises, while the mugger took off with $32 and two rings, including her wedding band.
Based on the victims' memories and the tape, police say the attacker is a black man in his 30s, about 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds. He wore a winter jacket with a fur-lined hood. The police department's public affairs office said Tuesday there were no new developments in the case.
Several posters have been placed throughout the generally quiet Queens neighborhood, urging anyone with information to call CrimeStoppers. So far, at least $18,000 in reward money is being promised by several sources, including the police, who Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Tuesday are raising their offer from $2,000 to $12,000.
Prompted by the attack, the state Senate's Republican majority proposed Tuesday to toughen penalties for assaulting an elderly person. The bill, offered by Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn, would make a felony of assaulting anyone more than 70 years old, among other provisions. Currently, such an assault could result in only a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than a year in jail.
Meanwhile, New Yorkers were struggling for the right way to describe the attacker, because curse words just don't seem to do it. In interviews and letters to newspapers, some suggested life imprisonment — or perhaps till he's 101.
John Brown, 45, of the Bronx, said the mugger must have been on drugs, because no rational person would do such a thing. "That was a cowardly act," fumed Brown. "For someone to do that to an old person — it was a cowardly, desperate act."
Others were reminded of the perils that could face their own parents and grandparents. Some wondered whether the mugger's mother was alive.
"My mom is 95, and if someone ever raised a hand to her ... they'd be dead," said Anthony Riccardelli, 58, who works near the crime scene. If he could get his hands on the mugger? "No one would ever know," Riccardelli said. "He'd be with Hoffa."
For others, it's not just about getting mad or getting revenge. Glenridge senior center in Ridgewood, Queens, is bringing back self-defense courses for the elderly in the next few days.
The center received dozens of phone calls on the topic after news broke of the attacks, said Susan Simonetti, the center's executive director. She, too had a warning for the mugger.
"Pick on somebody your own age," she said.
As for the victim, Morat told officials at the Queens district attorney's office she was too busy to meet with them Tuesday — because of a canasta tournament, the New York Daily News reports.