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Bystander shot in Empire State attack defends New York police

One of the nine bystanders shot during the deadly incident outside of the Empire State Building says NYPD officers responded with appropriate force. WNBC's Brynn Gingras reports.

NEW YORK -- One of the nine bystanders hit by gunfire when police shot and killed Jeffrey Johnson near the Empire State Building last week says an inch probably made the difference between life and death for him. 

In his first television interview Tuesday, Alberto Ramos of the Bronx told NBC 4 New York he was shot through his left foot, and that a bullet also came close to hitting his head.

"As I was getting up from the ground, I heard a round go right by my ear," he said, recalling the terrifying moments when police opened fire on 58-year-old Jeffrey Jones, the man accused of shooting and killing Steven Ercolino, a former colleague


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Ramos was working as a tour guide supervisor right where the shooting happened, on 33rd Street across from the Empire State Building Friday. 

Ramos, who had been working for his company about seven months, said he was speaking with one of his tour agents outside when he turned his head and noticed a man in a suit "from far away, down the block." Ramos turned back around.

Then, "about five seconds later, I remember the cops saying, 'Stay right there!' And I heard another scream, 'Stay right there!'" he said.

Officials in New York City defend police officers use of deadly force, as seen on graphic video, to stop gunman Jeffrey Johnson outside the Empire State Building. Nine bystanders were injured. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

That's when Ramos saw the police officers usually posted at the Empire State Building approaching with their hands on their guns. When he looked to see who they were speaking to, he saw Johnson walking in his direction.

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"I remember the guy in the suit turning around, and next thing I know, he raised his hand, and there was a handgun in his hand," said Ramos. "And as soon as I saw that handgun -- you kind of freeze, and you kind of know what's coming next, and it's nothing good, when someone raises his gun to an officer."

"We took about two steps running toward the opposite direction, and that's when I heard pop pop pop pop," he said. 

Both officers had raised their guns to Johnson and fired a total of 16 rounds. Nine bystanders were hit, mainly by shrapnel and ricocheting pieces of bullets. 

Despite being wounded, Ramos defended the officers' actions.  

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"I have law enforcement in my family," said Ramos, whose stepfather is retired from the NYPD. "I don't blame the cops, not one bit."

The gunman's own mother echoed the sentiment in an interview published in the New York Times Tuesday, saying, "I believe that he turned and pointed the gun at them to make sure that they would shoot him and he would die."

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said the police officers acted appropriately, and in a question-and-answer session with reporters Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "If somebody pointed a gun at you, and you had a gun in your pocket, what would you do?"

As Ramos recovers, he hopes his injury won't keep him from following in his stepfather's footsteps -- he says he wants to join the NYPD in the future. 

Ramos' prognosis is looking good, doctors told him. The bullet went through tissue, not bone, though he may have to undergo surgery in the coming months. 

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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.

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