By Collen Long and Tom Hays/The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — A disgruntled former women’s accessories designer shot a former colleague to death Friday and then was killed in a shootout with police near the Empire State Building that left nine others wounded, officials said.
The nine people wounded in the gunfire after 9 a.m. on the Fifth Avenue side of the building were expected to survive, police said.
After the shootout, crowds of tourists and people on their way to work gathered along 34th Street, which was shut down by police. Police helicopters buzzed overhead and swarms of officers were gathered around the crime scene.
Jeffrey Johnson, 53, was laid off about a year ago at Hazan Imports and targeted a 41-year-old former colleague, shooting the man in the head, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
A construction worker followed Johnson, then spoke to police nearby. Johnson turned his .45-caliber pistol on officers and they returned fire, Kelly said. Johnson was shot and killed by police.
It’s not clear if Johnson opened fire on the officers, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some of the nine wounded may have been shot by police in the mayhem.
The gunshots rang out at a time of day when the sidewalks around the building are packed with pedestrians and merchants were opening their shops.
“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.