A disgruntled former employee shot and killed an ex-coworker outside the Empire State Building before being shot dead by cops, who sources said wounded nine bystanders as police bullets sprayed across the crowded street during Friday’s morning rush.
Most of the injuries to bystanders appeared to be minor and none were life-threatening, Mayor Bloomberg said.
The shootings, in front of one of New York City's most iconic landmarks, created chaos and gridlock at a time of day when the streets were jammed with tourists, commuters heading into their offices and merchants opening their shops.
"People were yelling 'Get down! Get down!", said Marc Engel, an accountant who was on a bus in the area when he heard the shots. "It took about 15 seconds, a lot of 'pop, pop, pop, pop, one shot after the other."
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly identified the shooter as Jeffrey Johnson, 58, of the Upper East Side, who was laid off last year from his job at Hazan Imports, a women's clothing company at 10 W. 33rd St.
Johnson apparently returned there Friday morning and shot and killed Steven Ercolino, 41, a coworker, Kelly said. Johnson and his coworker had each filed police reports against each other in the past year.
According to the police report filed by Ercolino, Johnson allegedly confronted him in an elevator at Hazan Imports last April and threatened to kill him.
After Johnson shot the coworker, he fled north on 33rd Street with his .45-caliber handgun hidden in a black bag under his arm, Kelly said. A construction worker who followed him alerted uniformed cops on a counterterrorism post.
As the two officers approached Johnson, he pointed his gun at them and they shot at him, firing at least 14 times, Kelly said.
Law enforcement sources said Johnson purchased the .45-caliber handgun in Florida in 1991. He was not licensed to carry in New York City.
Ercolino, who lived in Warwick, N.Y., was the father of a young boy, neighbors there said.
Seven people were taken to Bellevue Hospital and two others to Cornell, the FDNY said. At least two of those shot appeared to be tourists, one from North Carolina. The ages of those hurt ranged from 20 to 56.
The brother of a woman who was shot in the leg told reporters she had been heading to Dunkin' Donuts when she heard the gunfire. While trying to decide whether she should duck or run, she was struck, her brother said.
"She's fine -- just a little shook up," he said. "Other than that, she's fine."
Authorities said emergency personnel received a call about the shooting at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street just after 9 a.m. and that units were on the scene within minutes. The FBI is also on the scene.
"We have multiple people shot in front of Empire State Building," an operator said over the police radio Friday morning, according to audio provided by radioreference.com. "We took the perp shot."
Witnesses described the shooter as a tall man in a gray suit. Kelly said he was dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase.
The body of the gunman remained on the street, under a white sheet, in front of Heartland Brewery until it was taken to the city medcal examiner's office around noon.
Anyone traveling in the area is advised to expect road closures and detours. The stretch of 34th Street between Madison and Fifth avenues is closed, as well as Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 33rd streets. The closures are expected to last until around 2 p.m.
Officials at the Empire State Building declined to comment Friday morning, except to say the building remained fully operational.
In 1997, a 69-year-old man opened fire on the observation deck of the iconic landmark, killing one person and wounding six before shooting himself in the head. The gunman, Ali Abu Kamal, was taken to the hospital, where he died more than five hours after self-inflicting the fatal wound.
Law enforcement officials believe the 1997 attack was premeditated.