Chaos and terror reigned Friday morning when gunshots rang out at an iconic spot where sidewalks were packed with pedestrians and merchants opening their shops.
"We were just working here and we just heard bang, bang, bang!" said Mohammed Bachchu, 22, of Queens, a worker at a nearby souvenir shop. He said he rushed from the building and saw seven people lying on the ground, covered in blood.
"I heard somebody yell, saying, 'He's shooting, he's got a gun, he's shooting!'" said another witness.
Queens resident Rebecca Fox, 27, said she saw people running down the street and initially thought it was a celebrity sighting, but then saw a woman shot in the foot and a man dead on the ground.
"I was scared and shocked and literally shaking," she said. She said police seemed to appear in seconds. "It was like CSI, but it was real."
James Bolden of Flatbush was on the phone with his wife the shots rang out; she told him to get off the phone and run.
"I heard some kind of ruckus and then I just see a whole bunch of people running toward us," he said. "It was just like, what's going on?"
Joseph Cohen was on his way to his job in an office at the Empire State Building when the shooting stopped him in his tracks.
"I was across the street and I heard a bunch of shots, and after maybe the sixth or seventh shot, I heard screaming, yelling, I heard running," he said. "I saw a body on the ground, and at that point, security started getting heavier and heavier... I was at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Hassam Cissa, 22, of the Bronx, said he saw two bodies on the ground and police applying a white cloth to a man's stomach wound.
Gunshots so close to one of the city's leading tourist attractions immediately prompted fears of terrorism, but federal officials were quick to determine that wasn't the case.
Still, hearing that tourists were among those shot was unnerving for one family visiting from Cologne, Germany.
"It's our first day here today, and now we're a bit scared," said Anna Maria Muller.
The gunfire came less than two weeks after a knife-wielding man was shot dead by police near Times Square, another tourist-saturated part of the city. Authorities said police shot 51-year-old Darrius Kennedy after he lunged at officers with a kitchen knife Aug. 12. Kennedy was smoking marijuana in Times Square on a Saturday afternoon when officers first approached, police said. It was the beginning of an encounter that would stretch for seven crowded blocks.