NEW YORK — A man who had been fired from his job in a shop outside the Empire State Building returned to the scene Friday morning, shot to death a former co-worker and then opened fire on police officers in a chaotic, rush-hour gunfight. The gunman also was killed, and at least nine people were wounded in the exchange of gunfire, city officials said.
Police identified the gunman as Jeffery Johnson, 53, a Manhattan resident who had been laid off from his job about a year ago as a women’s apparel designer at Hazan Imports, a shop on West 33rd Street near Fifth Avenue. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said they had no additional information on Johnson or his victim, whom they identified only as a 41-year-old man.
Johnson arrived at his former workplace at about 9 a.m. as the streets were crammed with tourists waiting to visit the Empire State Building’s observation deck and with commuters heading to offices inside the iconic, 102-story skyscraper. He pulled out a .45-caliber handgun and fired three shots into his former colleague, killing him.
Then, according to Kelly, Johnson began walking north on Fifth Avenue, the gun hidden in a black bag under his arm. But a construction worker who had witnessed the shooting alerted two police officers stationed on routine duty outside the Empire State Building.
“As the two officers approached Johnson, he pulled his ... pistol from his bag and fired on the officers, who returned fire, killing him,” Kelly told a news conference held at the scene about 2 1/2 hours after the shooting.
Bloomberg and Kelly said some of the nine people who were injured may have been hit or grazed by police gunfire but that none of their injuries was life-threatening. They also emphasized that the incident was not related to terrorism, always a concern in New York, especially as the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks approaches.
“What I want to do is assure everybody this is nothing to do with terrorism,” said Bloomberg.
“Thank God nobody else was seriously injured .... Again, there’s an awful lot of guns out there,” said the mayor, a staunch advocate of stricter gun laws who in the wake of recent mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin has called for politicians nationwide to crack down on guns.
Kelly and Bloomberg said it was too early to say if Johnson was legally permitted to be carrying a gun. Initial reports did not indicate he had a criminal record, they said.
The wounded included two women and seven men, and they were sent to at least two area hospitals.