Louis Lanzano, ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK — A laid-off clothing designer fatally shot an executive at his former company outside the Empire State Building on Friday, setting off a chaotic showdown with police in front of one of the world's best-known landmarks. Officers killed the gunman and at least nine others suffered minor wounds, likely all of them by stray police gunfire, authorities said.
The gunshots rang out on the Fifth Avenue side of the building at around 9 a.m., when pedestrians on their way to work 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."
Wearing an olive suit and tie and carrying a briefcase, Jeffrey Johnson walked up to the import company vice president, Steven Ercolino, put a gun to his head and fired without saying a word, authorities said. A witness told investigators that Johnson shot Ercolino once in the head and, after he fell to the sidewalk, stood over him and shot him four more times.
"Jeffrey just came from behind two cars, pulled out his gun, put it up to Steve's head and shot him," said Carol Timan, whose daughter, Irene, was walking to Hazan Imports at the time with Ercolino.
The gunman walked away and calmly turned up 5th Avenue, where he blended in with the crowd, police said.
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.
The two officers drew their weapons and fired 16 rounds, killing Johnson, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
A witness had told police that Johnson fired at the officers, but authorities say ballistics evidence so far doesn't support that. Johnson's .45-caliber weapon held seven rounds, they said. He fired five times at Ercolino, one round was still in the gun and one was ejected when officers secured it, authorities said.
"These officers ... had absolutely no choice," Kelly said. "This individual took a gun out very close to them and perhaps fired at them."
Another loaded magazine was found in Johnson's briefcase.
Johnson legally bought the gun in Sarasota, Fla., in 1991, but he didn't have a required permit to possess the weapon in New York City, police said.
"New York City, as you know, is the safest big city in the country, and we are on pace to have a record low number of murders this year," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "But we are not immune to the national problem of gun violence," he said about the shooting, which comes in the wake of mass shootings inside a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
Robert Asika, who was shot in the right arm, said he was "100 percent positive" that a police officer had shot him.
Asika, 23, sells tickets for the Empire State Building's observatory.
"When I woke up this morning, I didn't even want to go to work," he said. "Something told me not to go to work."
The wounded victims were five women and four men, aged 20 to 56, authorities said. All were from New York City, except a 35-year-old woman from Chapel Hill, N.C. They suffered graze wounds or other minor injuries, and police believe that at least some of the injuries were caused by bullet fragments that ricocheted off security planters.
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