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Police kill gunman outside Empire State Building

Associated Press Modified: August 24, 2012 at 9:02 pm •  Published: August 24, 2012
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NEW YORK (AP) — Jeffrey Johnson hid behind a car in his business suit and tie near the Empire State Building, waiting for the man he blamed for costing him his job. He put a gun to the executive's head and fired five times, then walked off with his briefcase into the morning rush of midtown Manhattan.

Minutes later, Johnson was dead in front of the landmark skyscraper, killed by police Friday in a chaotic confrontation that sent bullets ricocheting, wounded nine other people and left sidewalks near one of the world's best-known landmarks spattered with blood.

Police released dramatic surveillance video that showed the confrontation lasted only a few seconds. Johnson was walking rapidly down the street trailed by two police officers when he stopped, wheeled around and pulled out a gun.

About a dozen people ran for their lives, including two small children who were just feet away from Johnson. He pointed the gun at the officers, who quickly fired at him.

Johnson dropped his briefcase, fell to his knees and then collapsed on the ground.

The bystanders likely were hit by police officers' stray gunfire, some of it bullets that rebounded off planters in front of the skyscraper and grazed pedestrians.

The two officers fired 16 shots. The surveillance video shows Johnson pointing his weapon at police, but it's likely he did not get a chance to fire, investigators said.

Startled New Yorkers looked up from their morning routines in the crowded business district to see people sprawled in the streets bleeding and a tarp covering the body in front of the tourist landmark.

"I was on the bus and people were yelling 'get down, get down," said accountant Marc Engel. "I was thinking, 'You people are crazy, no one is shooting in the middle of midtown Manhattan at 9 o'clock in the morning."

It was over in seconds, he said — "a lot of pop, pop, pop, pop, one shot after the other." Afterward he saw sidewalks littered with the wounded, including one man "dripping enough blood to leave a stream."

Johnson, who neighbors had seen leave his apartment in a suit every day since he was laid off a year ago, had worked for six years for Hazan Imports and was let go when the company downsized, police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Police were looking into his relationship with the victim, Steven Ercolino, the company's vice president of sales, who had traded accusations of harassment with Johnson when he worked there. Johnson, 58, also blamed Ercolino for his layoff, saying that he hadn't aggressively marketed Johnson's new T-shirt line, police spokesman Paul Browne said.

After waiting for Ercolino, 41, to come to work, Johnson walked up to him, pulled out a .45-caliber pistol and fired at his head, Kelly said. After he fell to the ground, Johnson stood over him and shot four more times, a witness told investigators.

"Jeffrey just came from behind two cars, pulled out his gun, put it up to Steve's head and shot him," said Carol Timan, whose daughter, Irene, was walking to Hazan Imports at the time with Ercolino.

A construction worker who saw the shooting followed Johnson and alerted two police officers, a detail regularly assigned to patrol city landmarks such as the 1,454-foot skyscraper since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, officials said.

Kelly said the officers who caught up to Johnson had "a gun right in their face" and "responded quickly, and they responded appropriately."

"These officers, having looked at the tape myself, had absolutely no choice," Kelly said.

A witness had told police that Johnson fired at the officers, but authorities say ballistics evidence doesn't support that. Johnson's weapon held seven rounds, they said. He fired five times at Ercolino, one round was still in the gun and one was ejected when officers secured it, authorities said.

Another loaded magazine was found in Johnson's briefcase.

Johnson legally bought the gun in Sarasota, Fla., in 1991, but he didn't have a required permit to possess the weapon in New York City, police said.

"New York City, as you know, is the safest big city in the country, and we are on pace to have a record low number of murders this year," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "But we are not immune to the national problem of gun violence," he said of the shooting, following mass shootings a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

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