Gunman kills 1 at Empire State Building, 9 wounded

By Tom Hays

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Aug. 24 2012 12:45 p.m. MDT

Rebecca Cox talks to media while recounting what she saw immediately following a multiple shooting outside the Empire State Building, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in New York. At least four people were shot on Friday morning and the gunman was dead, New York City officials said. A witness said the gunman was firing indiscriminately. Police said as many as 10 people were injured, but it is unclear how many were hit by bullets. A law enforcement official said the shooting was related to a workplace dispute. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Mark Lennihan, Associated Press

NEW YORK — A women's accessories designer fatally shot a vice president of the company that laid him off near the Empire State Building Friday, causing a chaotic showdown with police in front of one of the world's best-known landmarks. Police killed the suspect and at least nine others were wounded, some by stray police gunfire, city officials said.

The gunshots rang out on the Fifth Avenue side of the building at around 9 a.m., when pedestrians packed sidewalks and merchants were 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."

Afterward, he saw the sidewalks littered with the wounded, including one person "dripping enough blood to leave a stream."

Some of the wounded were just grazed by bullets, and all were expected to survive.

Wearing a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase, Jeffrey Johnson fired three times at his 41-year-old coworker outside Hazan Imports, shooting him in the head, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

Johnson, 58, and the victim, identified by city officials as company vice president of sales Steven Ercolino, had traded accusations of harassment when Johnson worked there, and law enforcement officials said that Johnson had been angry that Ercolino wasn't promoting his products.

Johnson walked away, and a construction worker who saw the shooting followed Johnson and alerted two police officers, a detail regularly assigned to patrol city landmarks like the 1,454-foot skyscraper since the 9/11 terror attacks, officials said.

Surveillance video footage shows Johnson reaching into a bag, pulling out a .45-caliber pistol and pointing it at officers, Kelly said. The officers drew their weapons and started firing, killing Johnson, Kelly said.

"These officers ... had absolutely no choice," Kelly said. "This individual took a gun out very close to them and perhaps fired at them."

Kelly said authorities believe police may be responsible for some of the injuries because of the limited capacity of the gunman's weapon.

Erica Solar doesn't know who shot her in the back of the knee while she walked to get coffee on her way to work, said her brother, Louis Lleras.

"She just heard shots and she fell to the ground a couple of steps forward and noticed that she was shot," Lleras said.

The wounded victims included five women and four men, aged 20 to 56, authorities said.

Ercolino's profile on the business networking site Linkedin identified him as a vice president of sales at Hazan Import Corp. It said he was a graduate of the State University of New York at Oneonta.

A man who answered the phone at Ercolino's home in Warwick, northwest of Manhattan, said he was too distraught to talk.

"He was a good son, that's all I can say," said the man, who didn't give his name.

The two officers fired a total of 14 rounds at Johnson, Kelly said. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some of the nine wounded may have been shot by police in the mayhem. Johnson's semi-automatic weapon was equipped to fire at least eight rounds; at least one round was left in the clip, police said. Another loaded magazine was in his briefcase.

Johnson worked at the company near the building for about six years and was laid off because of downsizing, Kelly said.

Guillermo Suarez, the 72-year-old superintendent at Johnson's apartment building on Manhattan's Upper East Side, said he lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment that he was subletting from someone else. He called him a "very likeable guy," who always wore a suit.

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