Steven Ercolino, former Rockland resident, gunned down near Empire State Building
A 41-year-old former Nanuet man was gunned down Friday morning near the Empire State Building by a former co-worker in a shootout that left two dead, nine hurt and Midtown in lockdown, police said.
At 9:03 a.m., Jeffrey Johnson pulled a .45-caliber gun from a black bag and shot Steven Ercolino on the sidewalk in front of Hazan Import Corp., the accessories design company at 10 W. 33rd St. where the men had once worked together, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
Johnson, 58, had been fired from the firm about a year ago, and he and Ercolino, a company vice president, "had been accusing each other of harassment," Kelly said without providing specifics.
Steven's brother, Paul Ercolino, said he was not aware of any work-related conflicts that his brother was embroiled in. He said the victim was "very happy" in a relationship with his girlfriend, with whom he had gone on a recent trip to Mexico.
"He was a great uncle to my son, Vincent, and my daughter, Sophia. He was godfather to my son," Paul Ercolino said. "He would do anything for anybody. He had a zest for life."
Reached by phone at his residence in Warwick, the victim's father, Frank Ercolino, said Steven "was a loving son, and he will be missed." Records show Steven Ercolino lived at several addresses in Manhattan, Nanuet, Oneonta and, most recently, at the family home in Warwick.
Carol Timan, whose daughter, Irene, was walking to work with Steven Ercolino, said: "Jeffrey just came from behind two cars, pulled out his gun, put it up to Steve's head and shot him." Timan said her 35-year-old daughter worked at Hazan until about two weeks ago and knew both the shooter and the victim.
Friday night, Irene Timan's father, Joe Timan, said, "She's all shook up. She was right there." He said they had worked together for seven years.
Officials said Johnson fired three shots at Steven Ercolino's head with one gun that had a magazine with eight bullets; another magazine was found in his bag. Johnson, who appears to have no criminal record, then fled east on 33rd Street.
A construction worker alerted two NYPD officers on anti-terrorism patrol outside the Empire State Building, and the officers fatally shot Johnson from about five feet away after he pointed his gun at them, Kelly said. It was not clear how many times Johnson was hit. Both Johnson and Ercolino were confirmed dead at the scene, officials said.
The commissioner said about 14 shots were fired by police and three were fired by the suspect. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some victims may have been shot accidentally by police.
A surveillance videotape "clearly shows the guy [Johnson] had the gun out and was trying to shoot the police officers," Bloomberg said. "It happened very quickly. ... Thank God no one else was seriously injured."
Kelly said none of the injured -- two women and seven men -- was believed to have suffered life-threatening wounds.
Six victims were transported to Bellevue Hospital Center and three were taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill-Cornell Medical Center. The three at Cornell were treated and released, a hospital spokeswoman said at about 5 p.m.
Guillermo Suarez, 72, superintendent at 214 E. 82nd St. where Johnson sublet a one-bedroom apartment, said Johnson "was a mellow person, very quiet."
He went out every morning at around 7:30, in the same tan or brown suit, coming back an hour later with a bag from a nearby McDonald's, Suarez said. Friday "was the same routine," Suarez noted, "except he didn't come back this morning."
At work in a 13th floor dental office at 347 Fifth Ave. when the shooting occurred, Charlie Correa, 22, said he looked down on the scene and saw a man lying on the ground whom police later removed.
The man was wearing a grayish-brown suit, with a black handgun, two ammunition magazines and a black briefcase nearby, said Correa, an administrative assistant from Corona, Queens.
Two hours after the shooting, a body with a yellow police investigation card near his hand laid under a sheet on the south side of West 33rd Street. A red-and-black backpack lay on the sidewalk nearby.
Others -- tourists and media -- packed the area, taking video and photos with cellphone cameras.
Kim Yugi, 23, of Flushing, a tourist ticket saleswoman around the Empire State Building, said she heard gunshots and saw construction workers running. She described the scene as chaotic.
"The next thing I know the shooter was on the floor and the police officers were pointing their guns at him," Yugi said. "I was running away from the building."
William Missault, a police officer visiting from Belgium with his wife and teenage son, was in the lobby of the Empire State Building heading to the observatory.
"We had just entered the building when we suddenly heard four or five loud shots and then we saw a woman come running in with a child," Missault said. "I thought it was fireworks at first, but once I went outside and looked up and saw three helicopters, I knew it was something serious."
Sakranli Irem, a Turkish student, said: "I heard boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Five shots, I think. I saw people running."
Rebecca Fox, who works for a design company across the street from the scene of the shooting, said she was "scared and shocked" as the incident unfolded while she was in a nearby coffee shop.
"The cops were running down the street," Fox said. "I thought: Could this be another 9/11? Could this really be happening?"
Steven Ercolino, who grew up the second oldest of four children in Nanuet, graduated from SUNY Oneonta in 1992 with a degree in business economics. A statement from the school read: "We are saddened to learn that a member of the alumni community was a victim of this tragic and senseless killing. Our thoughts and prayers are with Steve's family."
He had three siblings: Paul, 46; Peter, 40; and a 37-year-old sister.
Just two weeks ago, generations of the Ercolino family had a sleepover at the family's Warwick residence, as if they were all young again, said Paul Ercolino.
Steven had always been a favorite uncle, thanks in part to his job selling women's and children's clothing and accessories, Paul Ercolino said, noting that Steven would visit with gifts for his 12-year-old niece.
"He would come home with a new handbag that he knew was going to be the style, and she'd have it first," Paul Ercolino said.
"We had a great night and a great day," Paul Ercolino said. "It was the last time I saw him."
Steven Ercolino had two sides -- an executive in stylish suits who'd jump from a West Coast red-eye flight into morning work, and the athletic traveler who embraced exotic places and globetrotting.
Their father, Frank, had been in the garment industry and Steven Ercolino's love of fashion and sales grew from that, his brother said.
"He really loved life," Paul Ercolino said. "I envied the way he lived. He soaked up every minute of it. He would just do it. He didn't have anything that would hold him back. He was a very spur-of-the-moment type of person."
The two brothers played off each other over their almost "rabid" love of football and baseball, Paul Ercolino said.
Not long ago, Paul Ercolino called a radio sports show to comment on the Mets and his sibling heard it.
Steven called his brother and joked, "You're still watching the stinkin' Mets?" Ercolino recalled.
"We didn't see each other that often," Paul Ercolino said, "but when we're together, it was like we were back to being kids around the house."
It was the last time Paul heard his brother's voice.
On Friday, Dave Eaton, who lives in the same complex as the Ercolinos, said he thought someone was making a movie or television show in the neighborhood. "And then someone told me that [Ercolino] was one of the victims," Eaton said. "You watch it on the news in the morning and it's down in New York, all the way down there, and then all of a sudden, it's up here. It's very hard."