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NYPD:16 bullets fired at Empire State gunman

Police lean over a sheet covered body on

Police lean over a sheet covered body on Fifth Avenue as they investigate a multiple shooting outside the Empire State Building. (August 24, 2012) Credit: AP

A laid-off fashion designer with a vendetta gunned down a former co-worker he blamed for costing him his job Friday morning outside the Empire State Building and was shot dead in a police fusillade that wounded nine bystanders, city officials said.

The burst of gunfire on Fifth Avenue triggered pandemonium near one of the city's iconic tourist attractions, sending office workers and tourists alike scurrying for cover at the end of the morning rush hour.

"I saw everybody running. I looked around and saw two police officers with their guns out," said Robert Asika, 23, of the Bronx, a ticket seller to the Empire State Building observation deck who was shot in the elbow.

"I'm scared, and I'm hurting," Asika said outside of Bellevue Medical Center. "Every part of my body is hurting right now."

Pedestrians hugged close to buildings and then scurried into lobbies to get away from the bullets.

Police said Jeffrey Johnson, 58, a T-shirt designer, was killed by two officers on Fifth Avenue after he pulled out a .45-caliber handgun that he had used moments earlier to kill a former colleague, who family and others identified as Steven Ercolino of Warwick.

The officers fired 16 shots at Johnson, hitting him at least seven times and wounding nine people with ricocheting bullet and concrete fragments, police said. A video released by the police Friday night showed that the encounter with the two officers lasted less than 10 seconds.

One eyewitness said Johnson fired once at the cops with his handgun although investigators have yet to recover ballistic evidence such as a spent shell casing to confirm that account, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.

"We see some ballistic damage to the [curb] flower pots by police fire and bullet fragments and ricochets, which may have caused civilians being shot or receiving graze wounds," Browne said.

The nine people wounded included eight New York City residents and one resident of North Carolina, police said. Three of the wounded were women. Six were treated at Bellevue Hospital Medical Center and the other three at Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Last night, three men and one woman remained at Bellevue, a hospital spokeswoman said. All others had been released.

"All of those are not seriously wounded, and there is no expectation that any of them will do anything other than recover quickly," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday morning.

Johnson had been laid off about a year ago from Hazan Import Corp. at 10 West 33rd St. during a downsizing from his six-year job as a designer of women's accessories, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Police said the former Upper East Side resident had periodically returned to the company to take care of health insurance issues.

Johnson blamed his victim, police said, for causing him to lose his job by not doing enough to sell his line of accessories, police said. Ercolino, 41, was a vice president at Hazan Import.

There had been complaints filed against each other at the Manhattan South police precinct, police said.

"They had issues," said John Koch, the building manager at 10 West 33rd St. "They didn't like each other."

At around 9 a.m. Johnson walked up to Ercolino as he talked with a female former co-worker outside the company's 33rd Street location and shot him without saying a word, Browne said. Johnson then fired again as the victim lay on the sidewalk and then put his gun in a canvas tote bag and calmly walked east to Fifth Avenue.

The former co-worker was Irene Timan, said her mother, Carol Timan of upstate Yulan.

Irene Timan, who lives in the Bronx, had met Ercolino by chance Friday morning, Carol Timan said. "She said she went down to get coffee and he [Ercolino] was there," Timan said. "They were walking back into the building together when it happened."

Irene Timan had worked at Hazan Import as a sales representative until two weeks ago, when she went to work for another firm in the same building, Timan said.

Anthony Collins, 23, of Staten Island, was on duty as the doorman at the 33rd Street office building when he heard shots.

"I heard about six pops. They were very loud," Collins said. He left his post and walked outside and heard a woman screaming.

"As I looked up, I saw two shells flying in the air," Collins said. "I saw a lot of blood and a couple bullets in his head."

Police said Ercolino was shot five times. Security cameras didn't record the killing but did show people running away from the scene. There are 80 tenants in the 12-floor building, Koch said.

Ercolino had worked on the seventh floor, Koch said.

Two construction workers followed Johnson as he went north along Fifth Avenue in front of the Empire State and one of them told the two officers that Johnson had just shot someone around the corner on 33rd Street, Browne said.

As the two cops approached Johnson, who was dressed in a business suit, he saw them out of the corner of his eye, drew his gun out of a black canvas bag and raised the weapon toward the cops, Browne said.

The video showed Johnson extending his arm and pointing at the officers, who then fire.

One of the officers fired seven times and another nine times, Browne said, adding it was likely the two cops fired simultaneously. The cops, who were not identified but are normally assigned to the Bronx, were on counterterrorism duty.

Police recovered a magazine with six rounds in the bag. The gun had been purchased by Johnson, who had no criminal record, in Florida legally in 1991 but was possessed illegally here, Browne said.

It was unclear what Johnson had been doing to support himself since he lost his job. Police didn't know if he was married. Around his apartment building on East 82nd Street, Johnson was known as a likable man with a soft spot for animals.

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