NEW YORK ? A disgruntled gunman laid off from his job a year ago opened fire outside the iconic Empire State Building on Friday morning, killing a former co-worker before he was shot and killed in a hailstorm of gunfire with two New York City police officers.
Nine bystanders were wounded in the exchange of gunfire, although their wounds are not believed to be life-threatening.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg identified the shooter as Jeffrey Johnson, 58, armed with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol. Johnson had been fired last year from Hazan Imports, a women's designer accessories company at 10 W. 33rd St. He shot and killed Steve Ercolino, Hazan's 41-year-old vice president of sales.
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said there had been an earlier workplace dispute between Johnson and the victim. "They each accused each other of harassment," Kelly said.
After the shooting, Johnson began walking away from the scene, an area bustling with shoppers, tourists and office workers. Johnson was trailed by a construction worker, who alerted two NYPD officers. As they approached him, he pulled a gun from a black bag and shot at them before the officers returned fire, killing him, Bloomberg said.
The wounded include two women and seven men sent to two area hospitals whom Bloomberg said may have been accidentally shot by cops, who fired off 14 rounds.
The incident happened two weeks after police fatally shot Darrius Kennedy, 51, in Times Square. Kennedy was armed with an 11-inch kitchen knife that he had been waving along Seventh Avenue.
Jamal Yahaya, 36, who works for New York Skyride, a tourist operation at the Empire State Building, says he was at the front entrance at Fifth Avenue. Yahaya didn't witness the Friday shooting, but said he saw a man walking north on Fifth Avenue. The police were following him and told him to stop. The man reached into his shoulder bag, pulled out a gun and fired at the police. The police fired back, Yahaya said.
"I saw him go down after the police shot at him," says Yahaya, a Ghana native who lives in Brooklyn. "I've never seen anything like this in my life."
A fire department spokesman says it received a call about the shooting just after 9 a.m. near 34th Street and Fifth Avenue. Emergency personnel were on the scene within minutes.
Bronx resident Louis Sanchez, 28, who works security at a nearby building, was crossing 33rd Street when he heard shots ring out.
"I just thought it was noise from construction," Sanchez says. "I turned around and saw the cops running."
Marc Engel, an accountant riding on an eastbound 34th Street city bus, says he couldn't believe that he heard shots early on a workday. Fellow passengers were yelling " 'Get down, get down,' " Engel said. "There were a lot of pop, pop, pop noises. Everyone hit the floor."
Engel says he saw a woman in blue, leaning against the Empire State Building, with a "stream of blood."
Aliyah Imam tells Fox 5 News that she was standing at a red light when a woman standing next to her fell to the ground. She says the woman was hit in the hip. She says the gunman was "shooting indiscriminately at people."
A six-block area remained closed to the public Friday afternoon. Inside the perimeter, there are police vehicles and cops as helicopters hover overhead. Crowds of curious onlookers gathered just outside the areas blocked off with police tape.
By Laura Petrecca, Martha T. Moore and Gary Strauss, USA TODAY