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Empire State shooting: Bystanders hit by police rounds

After 58-year-old Jeffrey Johnson shot and killed his former co-worker near the Empire State Building in New York City, police tried to stop him. As Johnson pointed his handgun at the officers, they opened fire – and police now say it's likely all of the wounded pedestrians were hit by their stray bullets. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

Updated at 9:45 p.m. ET: A disgruntled former employee shot and killed an ex-coworker before being shot dead outside the Empire State Building by police, who sources said wounded nine bystanders as bullets sprayed across the crowded street during Friday’s morning rush.

Steve Ercolino

The suspected gunman, Jeffrey Johnson, 58, who was laid off a year ago, approached a former co-worker on the street and shot him three times, killing him, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

Johnson's victim was identified, but as Steve Ercolino, 41, a vice president at Hazan Imports, where Johnson had worked until last year.


A police report from last year said that on April 27, 2011, Johnson threatened Ercolino, saying, "I am going to kill you."

Man accused of NYC gun attack was apparel designer, cat lover

A construction worker who witnessed the shooting incident Friday at 10 W. 33rd Street followed Johnson as he walked away and turned north on Fifth Avenue, Kelly said. The construction worker alerted police, who confronted Johnson.

Johnson was walking along the curb in front of the Empire State Building when he turned his .45-caliber pistol on the officers and was killed as they opened fire, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Police fired at least 14 times, Kelly said.

More coverage at NBCNewYork.com

Kelly said that some of those injured in the incident may have been hit by police bullets, adding that the injured are expected to survive.

Those hit with police bullets likely suffered ricochet and graze wounds, mostly to the lower extremeties, said Paul Browne, an NYPD spokesman, told NBC News later Friday.

Six of the nine bystanders injured in the shooting were treated and released on Friday, NBC News reported, while three were admitted to hospital for non-life threatening injuries, including one for elevated blood pressure.

Kelly said Johnson was a designer of women's accessories at Hazan Imports until he was laid off in a downsizing.

Johnson bought the .45-caliber gun used in the shooting in 1991 in Florida, two law enforcement souces told NBC News. He was not licensed to carry arms in New York, they said.

He was wearing a gray suit and carrying a briefecase when he gunned down Ercolino, officials said.

Ercolino, who lived in Warwick, N.Y., was the father of a young boy, neighbors there told NBC News.

Zoraida Mora, a co-worker of Ercolino, told NBC News, “Out of respect for the family I only can say he was (a) wonderful friend (and) coworker and it was a pleasure working with him and he surely will be missed!!!”

Louis Lanzano / AP

A disgruntled ex-employee opened fire Friday morning and shot 10 people, killing one. The gunman was then shot and killed at the scene.

When asked her if she had anything to say about Johnson, Mora said she did not. 

Through photos and tweets, witnesses show chaos outside Empire State Building 

 

Witnesses described a chaotic scene Friday morning on streets crowded with tourists and commuters alike.

"People were yelling 'Get down! Get down!", said Marc Engel, an accountant who was on a bus in the area when he heard the shots. "It took about 15 seconds, a lot of 'pop, pop, pop, pop, one shot after the other."

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"I heard pop, pop, pop, pop, and I ran back into my offices,” Gloria Walker, another witness, told NBC News. "I ran, I ran, I ran."

The brother of a woman who was shot in the leg told reporters she had been heading to Dunkin' Donuts when she heard the gunfire. While trying to decide whether she should duck or run, she was struck, her brother said.

"She's fine -- just a little shook up," he said. "Other than that, she's fine."

Those hurt ranged in age from 20 to 56. A tourist from North Carolina was among them.

The FDNY told NBC News they responded to a call about the shooting at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street at 9:07 a.m. Friday and arrived at 9:13 a.m. The body of the gunman remained on the street, under a white sheet, in front of Heartland Brewery until it was taken to the city medical examiner's office around noon.

The Empire State Building operators said the building was not involved in the shooting and remained open.

Gloria Walker describes witnessing the shooting at the Empire State Building to WNBC: "It was pandemonium."

NBC News' Miranda Leitsinger, Andrew Mach and Jim Gold also contributed to this report.

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