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Empire State Building victims hurt by police gunfire

By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times –

NEW YORK — The man who shot to death a former colleague in midtown Manhattan and then took aim at police never fired at the officers before they gunned him down in a hail of bullets that also wounded nine bystanders outside the Empire State Building.

The New York City police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, said Saturday that three of the pedestrians suffered bullet wounds and the others “were struck with fragments of some sort” as a result of the two officers’ shooting at Jeffrey Johnson after he pointed his .45-caliber handgun at them.

None of the wounds was life-threatening, and six of the nine were released from hospitals Friday evening, a few hours after the shootings sent pedestrians fleeing for cover and left Johnson and his victim dead on the sidewalk.

Surveillance cameras outside the Empire State Building captured Johnson’s final seconds and underscored the split-second decision facing the officers who confronted him. About a minute earlier, Johnson had pumped five bullets into 41-year-old Steve Ercolino on the sidewalk of West 33rd Street near Fifth Avenue.

Johnson then tucked the weapon under his arm and strolled casually east on 33rd and turned up Fifth , which took him past the main tourist entrance to the Empire State Building. The 58-year-old unemployed T-shirt designer was dressed in a suit and might have melted into the morning commuter crowd. But witnesses to Ercolino’s murder had pointed him out to two nearby officers.

The video shows Johnson walking on the busy sidewalk and nobody appears to notice that anything is amiss until two police officers begin to pursue him from behind. Johnson glances over his left shoulder at the approaching officers and pulls out a gun.

As the police draw their guns, people close enough to see what is about to happen flee in all directions. Johnson falls to the ground on his back. Police say he had 10 bullet wounds.

Johnson had lost his job at Hazan Imports, a women’s apparel and accessories company, about a year ago and had a long-running dispute with Ercolino, a vice president at Hazan. Ercolino’s family has said he never discussed any work problems stemming from his relationship with Johnson.

“Steven was a wonderful son,” Ercolino’s father, Frank Ercolino, said in a statement released to media.

Police were scouring the belongings taken from Johnson’s Manhattan apartment to see whether they offered any clues that could explain the shooting. By most neighbors’ accounts, Johnson was a polite man who had a soft spot for animals but who seemed to have few social contacts.

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