Empire State panic after designer guns down former boss

As workers and tourists dived for cover, police killed Johnson with a fusillade of bullets

New York

A shoot-out at the foot of the Empire State Building left two people dead and nine injured when police opened fire on a gunman who had killed his former boss.

Jeffrey Johnson, a fashion designer sacked last year from Hazan Imports, walked up to company vice-president Steven Ercolino and shot him in the head before trying to disappear into the morning crowd.

As workers and tourists dived for cover, police killed Johnson with a fusillade of bullets but are also thought to have shot several, if not all, of the nine wounded.

Two people were declared dead at the scene – Johnson, 53, and Mr Ercolina, 41 – while the wounded were rushed to area hospitals, none in a critical condition.

Police later revealed their officers had fired 16 rounds while Johnson fired five. Witnesses said the killer fired at least two and possibly five shots in quick succession at his victim.

The shooting, which happened at around 9am, horrified commuters pouring into office buildings in the area as well as tourists expecting to ride the lifts to the viewing decks of the Empire State Building, one of the world's most iconic structures.

Johnson was made redundant last year and, police believe, blamed Mr Ercolino for failing to aggressively promote his line of women's T-shirts.

New York City has some of the strictest gun controls in the country, in part because of the strong anti-firearms positions of its Mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said police were investigating whether Johnson fired on them. A video showed him reaching into a bag, pulling out a .45-caliber pistol and, Mr Kelly said, pointing it at officers who drew their weapons and fired 16 rounds. "These officers ... had absolutely no choice," Mr Kelly said. "This individual took a gun out very close to them and perhaps fired at them."

Multiple blocks of midtown Manhattan remained closed through much of yesterday to allow a police investigation.

Mr Bloomberg indicated that some of those wounded were hit by bullets fired by police. It remained unclear if the gunman had first opened fire on them. A construction worker, Chris Ogden, told the Daily News that he saw the gunman kill the victim from a vantage point high on scaffolding nearby and shouted to passers-by below to stop him getting away. "We were screaming from the top, 'It's the guy in the grey suit!'" he said.

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

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