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Jeffrey Johnson, Empire State Building gunman, called 'quiet, shy kind of guy'

Police at the scene where two people were

Police at the scene where two people were killed and nine were wounded in a shooting outside the Empire State Building on Friday morning. (Aug. 24, 2012) Credit: Rory Glaeseman

To his neighbors, there was nothing about Jeffrey Johnson to suggest he was capable of ambushing and killing a man.

He was a quiet man who seemed to enjoy the cats and dogs he would encounter more than he did people, according to neighbors. Most days, he followed a morning routine of heading to a McDonald's near his apartment on the Upper East Side, newspaper in hand, and coming back with a bag of takeout.

On Friday, he headed out as usual in the morning but never came back.

Johnson, 58, who was laid off a year ago from a job designing women's clothing accessories, took revenge against a former co-worker he blamed for his firing by gunning him down in front of the company's building on West 33rd Street, police said.

Minutes later, police confronted Johnson as he walked up Fifth Avenue outside the Empire State Building and shot him dead when he drew his .45-caliber pistol.

Johnson had worked at Hazan Import Corp., at 10 W. 33rd St., for about six years, police said, before losing his job more than a year ago.

His neighbors in a six-story walk-up on the Upper East Side said Friday that they could scarcely believe he was the man at the center of the bloodshed.

"Shock, I'm in shock," said Gisela Casella, 71, a neighbor in Johnson's building at 214 E. 82nd St. "I can't believe it. He was the nicest guy . . . I said, 'It can't be true. It must be a different Jeffrey.' "

Johnson lived alone in a one-bedroom, third-story sublet apartment, according to the building's superintendent, Guillermo Suarez.

Johnson went out every morning around 7:30 a.m. in the same tan or brown suit, carrying a copy of the New York Times. He would return an hour later with the bag from McDonald's. Friday "was the same routine," Suarez said, "except he didn't come back this morning."

Casella, a crossing guard in the neighborhood, said, "The way he was dressed, I figured he must have a top job."

"He kept to himself," she added, and was especially fond of Casella's terrier/Chihuahua mix, running toward the dog from down the block and greeting him by name with an "Oh, Buddy, Buddy, Buddy."

Johnson had a cat of his own, she said, and was distraught when a second one died last year. Casella said that until recently, she heard Johnson vacuuming his apartment every morning when she passed his door.

Ashley Halvorsen, a former resident who moved out in April, described him as "a quiet, shy kind of guy" whom she said she knew only in passing, but who once helped her retrieve a cat who had gotten loose and returned it to its owner.

Halvorsen said Johnson loved cats and had his own.

"Occasionally, the cats would sneak out the door and he'd go out and bring them back," she said. "We all thought he was a little weird. He had a lot of cats. He kept to himself."

Suarez, 72, said Johnson, "was a mellow person, very quiet."

"He never was the kind of guy to let go and open up to people," said Suarez, who also said he noticed Johnson had recently lost weight. The most Johnson ever said was "hello and goodbye."

With Sarah Crichton

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