A laid-off designer fatally shot a former co-worker in the head outside the Empire State Building before he was killed by police. Nine people were injured in cross-fire.
The suspect, preliminarily identified as Jeffrey Johnson, 58, was a "disgruntled former employee" of a company located outside the Empire State Building, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said. Hazan Imports, where Johnson worked as a designer of women's accessories before the company was downsized, sacked him roughly a year ago.
Friday, Johnson returned to his former workplace and waited on a sidewalk near the landmark building. Shooting an ex-colleague in the head at a close range, Johnson attempted to flee the scene.
Witnessing the incident, a construction worker alerted two police officers, who pursued Johnson up West 33rd Street into Fifth Avenue.
Some witness reports suggested that when the officers approached Johnson, he pulled a .45 caliber handgun from a black briefcase and started shooting. The officers returned fire making some 14 rounds in total, Kelly continued. The former designer sustained a fatal shot and died.
But investigators are saying there no evidence yet that Johnson fired at police. Authorities say current ballistic evidence does not support this account.
Two women and seven men aged 20 to 56 were wounded or grazed in the incident. The New York Fire Department says their conditions range from minor injuries to not urgent.
"Some may have been accidentally shot by police officers," Kelly said. There is some probability of that as a .45 caliber gun can only make eight shots without being reloaded. Police have also found Johnson had been carrying another magazine with eight bullets and a knife.
People at the scene say at least seven shots were heard near the intersection of 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue at 9:04 am local time (13:00 GMT), when pedestrians packed sidewalks and merchants were opening their shops.
"People were yelling 'Get down! Get down!", Marc Engel, who was on a bus in the area when he heard the shots, told the Associated Press.
"All of a sudden there were just cops running down and people taping scenes. It was just kind of a scene out of CSI [Crime Scene Investigation, US television drama], honestly, but it was real," Rebecca Fox said describing the immediate aftermath of the shooting. "I saw a woman sitting up against the building, with her foot that had been shot. And then I looked halfway down at the doors where you enter the Empire State Building, and the supposed shooter was on the ground, and he had been shot."
Johnson's ex-colleague is identified by police as Steve Ercolino, 41, as reported by The New York Times. Kelly says Johnson and Ercolino had been trading accusations of harassment before the designer got the sack.
The Empire State Building being a favored tourist destination, the incident sparked fears of a possible terror act. But New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, arriving at the scene, ruled out any connection to terrorism since there was no direct link to the historic skyscraper.
"This is clearly a murder here," Bloomberg told a press-conference. The mayor also praised police and civilians for their quick response and stressed the investigation has only started, so no data can be treated as final yet.
The FBI and police drew multiple forces to the scene, cordonning the area off. Later in the day, the Empire State Building management stated the order in the skyscraper was restored and it was again fully operational.
The incident comes as the third major shooting incident of the summer in the US, following an assault on a packed cinema theatre in Colorado and an attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, reviving a gun control debate in the country.