"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.
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."
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 said that wasn't the case, and a guard at skyscraper said it didn't involve the parts of the building where tourists gather to visit the skyscraper.
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 say 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.
In 1997, a gunman opened fire on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building, killing one tourist and wounding six others before fatally shooting himself.
Metal detectors and bag searchers have been standard at the 102-story skyscraper since the 1997 shooting.
Millions of tourists visiting New York ascend its heights to gape over the city from its observation deck, made famous in films such as "Sleepless in Seattle." It was 1933's "King Kong" that showed a giant ape clutching Fay Wray and fending off airplanes atop the tower.
The skyscraper and its observatories remained open throughout the mayhem Friday, the building's owner said.
"This unfortunate event had nothing to do with the Empire State Building and with terrorism," said Anthony Malkin of Malkin Holdings.
Contributing to this report were Alex Katz, Samantha Gross, Julie Walker, David B. Caruso, Karen Matthews and Ula Ilnytzky.
- International tax competitiveness report: See...
- 'Maze Runner' races past 'Tombstones' with...
- 11 best—and worst—state tax systems
- White House intruder identified as Army...
- It's not just young people — seniors...
- Ex-stepson: White House intruder meant no harm
- Why a parent going to prison can be worse...
- Thousands march in NYC, around globe over...
- Striking or spanking a child is not a... 20
- School police stock up on free military... 11
- Yellen says US families need to boost... 10
- Security breached: Intruder gets into... 9
- How much America wants to be taxed 9
- Iranian youth behind 'Happy' video... 7
- Thousands march in NYC, around globe... 7
- It's not just young people —... 7