Two people were confirmed dead and nine injured in the vicinity of the Empire State Building in New York City on Friday morning following a high-visibility shooting incident — the third in two months.
Initial comments from NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly suggested that Jeffrey Johnson (53), apparently a disgruntled worker laid off from a women’s apparel store a year ago, fired at a former co-worker at close range, “striking the victim in the head”.
According to witnesses at the scene, Johnson was wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase, allowing him to blend in with the office-going crowd.
Johnson was then said to have fled on foot, carrying a .45 calibre handgun secreted under a black bag on his arm. When a construction worker who had witnessed the event alerted two police officers who then approached the man, Johnson fired at them. He was killed when the officers returned fire, the Commissioner said to media.
Aerial shots of the scene on news channels showed a police line around the area. Parts of 33rd and 34th Street had been closed off, officials said. Police said they would not be releasing the identity of the victim killed until that individual’s family had been notified.
President Barack Obama was said to have been notified of the shooting within the hour, by around 9:30 am local time, though authorities told media that they did not consider it a terrorism-related incident.
Anika Basu an eyewitness who was on a bus near the shooting scene, said to CNN that she heard “a bunch of gunshots” and saw “people fall to the ground.” There was complete silence as the shots rang out, she said, adding, “When something happens like this happens at a place like the Empire State Building first, thing in the morning when you are on the way to work, it brings you back to reality.” Another witness, identified only as Suzie, said that she saw “a dead body falling on the ground.”
The incident comes close on the heels of a shooting at movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20 and another at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara near Milwaukee — both events that shocked the nation and revived the debate on gun control.
Following Friday’s incident Mr. Bloomberg, who earlier criticised both Democratic and Republican leadership for not discussing gun laws more during election campaigning, said, “We are not immune to the problem of gun violence... there’s an awful lot of guns out there.” He however stressed that NYC was a safe city.
Among the nine victims injured — said to be two women and seven men — Mr. Bloomberg noted that the expectation was that “they will do nothing except recover quickly”. Both he and the Commissioner confirmed that some individuals had been injured in crossfire from police officers as they fired upon Johnson.
Alluding to both the person who had alerted the police to the situation as well as others on the scene, the Mayor noted that “the situation would have been even more tragic except for some extraordinary acts of heroism”, and the bravery of civilians on the spot.
Johnson, who was said to not have any prior criminal record, used to work for a women’s fashion accessory company, Hazan Imports, from where he had been fired earlier. The person he killed in the store was said to be 41 years of age.