A disgruntled laid-off women's accessories designer shot a former co-worker to death in front of the Empire State Building, causing a chaotic showdown with police in front of one of the world's best-known landmarks.
Police killed the suspect and at least nine others were wounded, some possibly by police gunfire, city officials said.
Some of the wounded were grazed by bullets and others hit directly, but all were expected to survive, officials said.
The gunshots rang out on the Fifth Avenue side of the building at around 9 a.m., a time of day when the sidewalks around the building are packed with pedestrians and merchants were opening their shops.
After the shootout, crowds of tourists and people on their way to work gathered along 34th Street, which was shut down by police. Police helicopters buzzed overhead and swarms of officers were gathered around the crime scene.
Jeffrey Johnson, 53, was laid off about a year ago at Hazan Imports and confronted a 41-year-old former colleague, shooting the man in the head, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. The two had traded accusations of harassment when Johnson worked there, he said.
Johnson walked away after shooting his ex-colleague, and a construction worker who witnessed the encounter followed Johnson and alerted police, officials said. Johnson then turned his .45-caliber pistol on the two officers and they traded gunfire, killing Johnson, Kelly said.
He apparently fired at officers, but it's not clear how many shots, Kelly said. The two officers fired a total of 14 rounds, he said. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some of the nine wounded may have been shot by police in the mayhem.
Johnson worked at the company near the building for about six years and was laid off because of downsizing, Kelly said.
"We were just working here and we just heard bang, bang, bang!" said Mohammed Bachchu, 22, of Queens, a worker at a nearby souvenir shop. He said he rushed from the building and saw seven people lying on the ground, covered in blood.
Queens resident Rebecca Fox, 27, said she saw people running down the street and initially thought it was a celebrity sighting, but then saw a woman shot in the foot and a man dead on the ground.
"I was scared and shocked and literally shaking," she said. She said police seemed to appear in seconds. "It was like CSI, but it was real."
Hassam Cissa, 22, of the Bronx, said he saw two bodies on the ground and police applying a white cloth to a man's stomach wound.
Gunshots so close to one of the city's leading tourist attractions immediately prompted fears of terrorism, but federal officials said that wasn't the case, and a guard at skyscraper said it didn't involve the parts of the building where tourists gather to visit the skyscraper.
The gunfire came less than two weeks after a knife-wielding man was shot dead by police near Times Square, another tourist-saturated part of the city. Authorities say police shot 51-year-old Darrius Kennedy after he lunged at officers with a kitchen knife Aug. 12. Kennedy was smoking marijuana in Times Square on a Saturday afternoon when officers first approached, police said. It was the beginning of an encounter that would stretch for seven crowded blocks.
In 1997, a gunman opened fire on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building, killing one tourist and wounding six others before fatally shooting himself.
The 9 a.m. mayhem sent commuters and tourists in a panicked scramble from the jam-packed intersection of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue.
“This is the last thing you are expecting to see walking to work – someone shot dead in broad daylight in Midtown,” said Sid Dinsay, 38, who works in a PR firm on Fifth Avenue.
Police said that there was no apparent link to terrorism.
"I heard the gunshots," said Dahlia Anister, 33, who works at an office near the 102-story Empire State Building. "It was like pop, pop, pop. It was definitely in a bunch."
The victims were shot shortly after 9 a.m. on the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue outside the building in Midtown Manhattan.
The shooting broke out at the height of the tourist season outside one of New York City's most popular attractions, startling tourists and commuters in one of the busiest areas of the city.
The building is two blocks from Pennsylvania Station, one of New York City's main transportation hubs.
The United States has had two other mass shooting cases this summer. On July 20, James Holmes, 24, allegedly opened fire at a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58.
On August 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 terrorism.
The Empire State Building was the world's tallest building for 40 years from its completion in 1931 until construction of the World Trade Center. Following the September 11, 2001, attacks, it was again the tallest building in the city.
© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.