* Wounded may have been hit by police fire
* Gunman had been dismissed from job a year ago
* Latest mass shooting rekindles debate about gun control
By Lily Kuo and Chris Francescani
NEW YORK, Aug 24 An out-of-work fashion designer
fatally shot a former co-worker near the Empire State Building
on Friday and then was killed in a blaze of gunshots by police,
stunning tourists and commuters outside of one of New York's
most popular landmarks.
Eight bystanders were wounded, possibly all of them by
police bullets, though none of their injuries were
life-threatening, police said.
Officials said that women's accessories designer Jeffrey
Johnson, 58, had been laid off from Hazan Imports a year ago and
that while working there, had been locked in a dispute with the
victim. Police said Johnson had claimed the victim had failed to
sell enough of his creations and held a grudge.
Investigators were attempting to determine whether Johnson
shot anyone beyond his initial target. All eight of the
surviving victims could have been hit by the two police officers
who shot at Johnson, officials said.
Several were likely hit by police bullets that ricocheted
off large, anti-terror concrete flower pots stationed outside
the Manhattan landmark, police said.
Other than its proximity, the Empire State Building had no
link to the violence. Mayor Michael Bloomberg ruled out any
connection to terrorism.
The shooting rattled an always-busy part of Midtown
Manhattan at the height of the tourist season.
"I saw a friend of mine lying on the street bleeding. She
was in shock," said Christopher Collins, who said he tried to
keep her calm as he rode with her in an ambulance. "I'm glad the
cops shot him dead. One less trial we have to go through."
The mother of a co-worker who witnessed the shooting
identified the dead executive as Steve Ercolino. Police declined
to confirm his identity.
Ercolino was walking toward Hazan Imports, across 33rd
Street from the Empire State Building, and stopped to talk to a
colleague. Johnson, dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a
black canvas bag, walked up and shot Ercolino at close range,
police said, and then stood over the man and shot him again -- a
total of five shots.
Johnson, carrying a second magazine in his bag, then walked
"calmly" a block away, police said, past two officers stationed
in front of the entrance to the Empire State Building. A pair of
construction workers who witnessed the shooting followed Johnson
and tipped off the officers, pointing at Johnson as he passed,
The two cops approached Johnson, who drew his gun, turned
and pointed it directly at the officers from about eight feet
(2.4 meters) away, police said. Police opened fire and shot him,
Police Department spokesman Paul Browne told reporters.
One officer fired nine times and the other seven times,
Browne said. Investigators believe Johnson was shot seven times;
his body had 10 bullets wounds, three of which were believed to
be exit wounds, Browne said.
Animosity between Johnson and Ercolino had prompted them to
file counter complaints with police in April 2011, Browne said.
No charges resulted from the complaints.
It was the third major shooting of the summer in the United
States, following an assault on a crowded cinema in Colorado and
an attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, rekindling debate about
gun control in America. The New York shooting was different in
that Johnson appeared to have only one intended victim.
"We are not immune to the national problem of gun violence,"
said Bloomberg, a leading national proponent of gun control and
founder of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Bloomberg has often called New York the safest big city in
America, citing a declining crime rate that had the city on pace
for another record low number of homicides in 2012.
"It's time to get the guns off the street," said Brandon
Thorpe, 23, a janitor who said he has lost five friends to gun
violence. "This is a tourist attraction. How are we supposed to
make people feel safe if they come here and see something like
The Empire State Building is walking distance from
Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Terminal, two of New
York's main transportation hubs, and the shooting took place at
the end of the morning rush hour.
"I heard the gunshots. It was like pop, pop, pop. It was
definitely in a bunch," said Dahlia Anister, 33, who works at an
office near the building.
Mail courier James Bolden, 31, said he saw a "guy laying on
the (sidewalk), bleeding from the neck and barely breathing."
"Everybody was crowded around him taking pictures and video,
and security guys were yelling everybody to get back, and give
him space. He was barely breathing," Bolden said.
One witness said she saw a woman who was shot in the foot
and another woman being taken away in an ambulance.
"I was walking down 33rd (Street) and there's a dead guy. I
just saw pools of blood. He was laying down and the was blood
pooling (around him)," said Justin Kellis, 35, who works nearby.
The United States has had two other mass shootings this
summer. On July 20, a gunman opened fire at a midnight screening
of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colorado,
killing 12 people and wounding 58.
On Aug. 5, a gunman killed six people and critically wounded
three at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee before police shot him
dead in an attack authorities treated as an act of domestic
This was the second high-profile shooting incident in two
weeks in New York's tourist-heavy Midtown Manhattan. On Aug. 12,
New York police shot and killed a knife-wielding suspect as he
sought to evade them through Saturday-afternoon traffic and
pedestrians in Times Square.
The art deco Empire State Building was the world's tallest
building for 40 years from its completion in 1931 until
construction of the World Trade Center in 1971.
Several skyscrapers around the world have since surpassed
the New York buildings. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks
that destroyed the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building
was again the tallest building in New York City, though it was
recently surpassed by a new tower under construction at Trade