Police officers’ gunfire wounded 9 near Empire State Building
A man who shot to death a former colleague in midtown Manhattan and then took aim at police never fired at the officers before they gunned him down in a hail of bullets that also wounded nine bystanders outside the Empire State Building.
The New York City police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, said Saturday that three of the pedestrians suffered bullet wounds and the others “were struck with fragments of some sort” as a result of the two officers’ shooting at Jeffrey Johnson after he pointed his .45-caliber handgun at them.
None of the wounds was life-threatening, and six of the nine were released from hospitals Friday evening, a few hours after the shootings sent pedestrians fleeing for cover and left Johnson and his victim dead on the sidewalk.
Surveillance cameras outside the Empire State Building captured Johnson’s final seconds and underscored the split-second decision facing the officers who confronted him. About a minute earlier, Johnson had pumped five bullets into 41-year-old Steve Ercolino on the sidewalk of West 33rd Street, near 5th Avenue.
Johnson then tucked the weapon under his arm and strolled casually east on 33rd and turned up 5th Avenue, which took him directly past the main tourist entrance to the Empire State Building. The 58-year-old unemployed T-shirt designer was dressed in a suit and might have melted into the morning commuter crowd. But witnesses to Ercolino’s murder had pointed him out to two officers on duty outside the Empire State Building.
The video shows Johnson walking on the sidewalk, near the curb, passing two large concrete planters with shrubs, and nearing a bench occupied by three people. Nobody appears to notice that anything is amiss until two police officers begin to pursue Johnson from behind.
At that point, a woman in a red shirt stops and swings around to look at Johnson; Johnson glances over his left shoulder at the approaching officers and pulls out a gun.
As the police draw their guns, people close enough to see what is about to happen flee in all directions; the bench-sitters run north on 5th Avenue. The woman in the red shirt scrambles off camera toward the Empire State Building. Another woman holds her hands to her head in panic as she begins to run in one direction, and then spins around and heads the other way.
Johnson falls to the ground on his back. Police say he had 10 bullet wounds.
Johnson had lost his job at Hazan Imports, a women’s apparel and accessories company, about a year ago and had a long-running dispute with Ercolino, a vice president at Hazan. Ercolino’s family has said he never discussed any work problems stemming from his relationship with Johnson, even if Johnson remained obsessed with their dispute.
“Steven was a wonderful son,” Ercolino’s father, Frank Ercolino, said in a statement released to media. On Friday evening, people began leaving flowers and cards near the site of Ercolino’s shooting, but by Saturday morning, there was no sign of the carnage that had bloodied the sidewalks 24 hours earlier.
Police were scouring the belongings taken from Johnson’s Manhattan apartment to see if they offered any clues that could explain the shooting. By most neighbors’ accounts, Johnson was a polite man who had a soft spot for animals but who seemed to have few social contacts.
Ashley Halvorsen, who lived upstairs from Johnson, said she would see him coming back to his apartment every morning – even on Sundays – wearing a suit and carrying a bag of food and two cups of coffee from a nearby fast-food outlet.
“My roommate and I would always wonder why he came back with two cups because he lived alone,” she said.
On one occasion, Johnson stepped in to help when Halvorsen found an apparent stray cat outside their building. “He said he knew who it belonged too and would take care of it,” she recalled. “Then he picked it up and whisked it away.”
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