NEW YORK, (Reuters) – Two people were killed and at least eight wounded in a shooting outside the Empire State Building today, a New York police source said, creating chaos and shocking tourists and commuters who witnessed the bloody scene outside the landmark tourist attraction.
A 53-year-old fashion accessories designer, disgruntled over being fired a year ago, shot and killed a 41-year-old former co-worker three times with a .45 caliber handgun on a sidewalk near the landmark building, officials said.
Police returned fire, killing the shooter and wounding several bystanders, all of whom were expected to survive, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly identified the shooter as Jeffrey Johnson of Manhattan, who had worked at Hazan Imports across the street from the skyscraper. The shooting took place outdoors, at the height of the tourist season by one of New York City’s most popular attractions
A white tarp covered Johnson’s body in front of the entrance to the office building. There was no link to the historic tower – it just happened to be next door – and Bloomberg ruled out any connection to terrorism.
“I heard the gunshots. It was like pop, pop, pop. It was definitely in a bunch,” said Dahlia Anister, 33, who works at an office near the 102-story Empire State Building.
The shooting started shortly after 9 a.m. (1300 GMT) on the busy sidewalk on Fifth Avenue outside the Midtown Manhattan building.
It came at the height of the tourist season outside one of New York City’s most popular attractions. Police cordoned off the area around the building, one of the most recognizable in the world.
The Empire State Building is two blocks from Pennsylvania Station and eight blocks from Grand Central Terminal, two of New York City’s main transportation hubs.
Mail courier James Bolden, 31, said he saw a “guy laying on the (sidewalk), bleeding from the neck and barely breathing.”
“Everybody was crowded around him taking pictures and video, and security guys were yelling everybody to get back, and give him space. He was barely breathing,” Bolden said.
One witness said she saw a woman who was shot in the foot and another woman being taken away in an ambulance.
“I was walking down 33rd (Street) and there’s a dead guy. I just saw pools of blood. He was laying down and the was blood pooling (around him),” Justin Kellis, 35, who works nearby.
The United States has had two other mass shooting cases this summer. On July 20, a gunman opened fire at a midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58.
On Aug. 5, a gunman killed six people and critically wounded three at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee before police shot him dead in an attack authorities treated as an act of domestic terrorism.
This was the second high-profile shooting incident in two weeks in New York’s tourist-heavy midtown Manhattan. On Aug. 12 New York City police shot and killed a knife-wielding suspect as he sought to evade them through Saturday afternoon traffic and pedestrians in Times Square.
The Empire State Building was the world’s tallest building for 40 years from its completion in 1931 until construction of the World Trade Center. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it was again the tallest building in the city, though was recently surpassed by a new tower under construction at the World Trade Center.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly planned a news conference for 11 a.m.