At 9:03 am, Jeffrey Johnson (53) fatally turned a 45-caliber pistol on a former co-worker at 10 W 33rd St. Johnson fled to the Empire State Building, where he was killed and nine other victims were injured in crossfire with police.
IrishCentral's offices are just blocks away; flashing lights, sirens and the hum of helicopters informed us immediately that something had happened.
“I’m looking at a body right now,” Jordan Mascarenhas, proprietor of Up and Away travel on 5th Ave between 33rd and 34th St, told IrishCentral by phone after we reached the scene. “I see a dark-haired white male, shot through the heart. He is wearing a lime green t-shirt.”
“According to other people in the area this body is that of the shooter,” Mascarenhas told IrishCentral. “The body is on the sidewalk on 5th Ave between 33rd and 34th St.”
Colin Murphy, a tourist from Baltimore, and his friends were trapped at the Empire State Building observation deck for two hours as the tragedy unfolded below, he told IrishCentral. They attempted to leave but were prevented by police.
“It was surreal, to see the people in the streets run like that,” Murphy told IrishCentral of what he witnessed from the observation platform. “It was unbelievable.”
“We were inside the observatory, we heard the shots, we tried to get back outside, they rushed us back in,” Murphy told IrishCentral. “Back in the building. They were trying to hold the whole building off, people were running, it was really a crazy scene. They closed down the side that we were on.”
Fernando Jimenez, a Banana Republic employee, told IrishCentral he heard the shots as the store opened. A co-worker who was out on the street and saw the shooting was “pretty traumatized” by the event. Jimenez said he does not plan to go back to work today.
A construction worker interviewed by IrishCentral, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was drinking coffee at his 33rd and 5th work site when he heard the shots.
“Our section of the job site was evacuated,” he said. “We’re done for the day.”
Some of the victims may have been injured in shots fired by police, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press conference. All are expected to survive; six are being treated at Bellevue Hospital, the other three at New York Cornell Presbyterian Medical Center.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in the press conference that Johnson had been employed for six years as an accessories designer at Hazan Imports, a womens’ clothing retailer, but was laid off a year ago.
The "disgruntled former employee" shot his former co-worker in the head at close range in front of the company's offices at 10 W 33rd St, Kelly said. The deceased victim’s name has been withheld until the family can be notified.
Johnson "then fled eastbound on W 33rd St, to 5th Ave, when he walked northbound along the curb line with a 45-caliber handgun secreted in a black bag that he had under his arm," Kelly said. "A construction worker who had followed Johnson from W 33rd St alerted two uniformed police officers who were on post in front of the Empire State Building's Fifth Ave entrance as part of our counterterrorism coverage. As the two officers approached Johnson, he pulled his 45-caliber semiautomatic pistol from his bag and fired on the officers, who returned fire, killing him."
The encounter was captured by security cameras, Kelly said, proving that the suspect had aimed his weapon at the police officers before they shot him. Later in the conference, Kelly said it was unclear as yet whether the perpetrator or police fired first.
Bloomberg commended the construction worker who notified police, though could not give the man's name at the press conference.
“He identified what he saw to the police,” Bloomberg said. “He saw something, he said something.”
Johnson does not have a criminal record, Kelly said. He was a resident of Manhattan.
“This is nothing to do with terrorism,” Bloomberg said. “Once again, there’s an awful lot of guns out there.”
Here's New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly's press conference earlier this morning: