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Jeffrey T. JOHNSON





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Long history of antagonism
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 24, 2012
Date of birth: 1953
Victim profile: Steven Ercolino, 41 (co-worker)
Method of murder: Shooting (.45-caliber semiautomatic handgun)
Location: New York City, New York, USA
Status: Fatally shot by police officers after raising his weapon at them the same day

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2012 Empire State Building shooting

On August 24, 2012, a gunman shot and killed a former co-worker outside the Empire State Building in New York City. Following the initial shooting, the gunman, 58-year-old Jeffrey T. Johnson, was fatally shot by police officers after raising his weapon at them. Nine bystanders were wounded by stray bullets fired by the officers and ricocheting debris, but none suffered life-threatening injuries.


On Friday, August 24, 2012, at approximately 9:03 a.m. EDT, at the Fifth Avenue side of the Empire State Building, Jeffrey Johnson, a clothing designer who had been laid off, emerged from hiding behind a van, pointed a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun at a former co-worker's head, and fired one round. Once the victim fell to the ground, Johnson stood over him and fired at him four more times, killing him. A coworker of the victim said she witnessed Johnson walk up to him and pull a gun out of his jacket.

After the shooting, Johnson concealed the handgun in a briefcase he was carrying, while pedestrians in the vicinity of the site of the shooting screamed and panicked. A construction worker followed him on West 33rd Street and alerted police officers who were stationed in front of the Empire State Building's 33rd Street entrance. When confronted by the two officers, Johnson raised his weapon, but did not fire.

The officers fired a total of 16 rounds, killing Johnson and injuring nine bystanders, none of whom suffered life-threatening wounds. Three of the bystanders were directly hit by police gunfire, while the rest of the injuries were caused by fragments of ricocheting bullets, or by debris from other objects hit by police.

Johnson's handgun, which held eight rounds, still had two rounds remaining when he was shot, and extra ammunition was found inside his briefcase. A witness said people at the scene were shouting, "Get down! Get down!" and that the gunfire lasted about fifteen seconds.

The victims, five women and four men ranging in age from 20 to 43, were hospitalized at Bellevue Hospital Center, and New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. By Friday evening, six of the nine were treated and released from the hospitals. Eight victims were from New York City, and one woman was visiting from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.


The perpetrator was 58-year-old Jeffrey T. Johnson, a Manhattan resident, who was laid off from his job as a women's apparel designer at Hazan Imports at 10 E. 33rd St. about a year prior to the shootings, due to a downsizing of employees. He held his victim responsible for his resultant financial problems and police sources say he recently found out that he was being evicted from his apartment, which may have precipitated the shooting.

Johnson was born in Japan in 1953 to an American father and Japanese mother, and moved to the United States when he was 10 months old, where he grew up in Gainesville, Georgia. He had worked at the company for six years and lived alone in a walk-up apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side at the time of the attack.

His building's superintendent and neighbors described him as a quiet and polite man who was seen every morning wearing a suit, greeting his neighbors and getting takeout from a nearby McDonald's, then usually remaining in his apartment for the rest of the day.

He had no known criminal record or history of psychiatric problems and the handgun used in the shooting was legally purchased in Sarasota, Florida in 1991, but he did not have a license to carry a handgun in New York City. He served in the United States Coast Guard from 1973 to 1977 and was honorably discharged with the rank of petty officer second class.

Johnson attended the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida from 1978 to 1980, and owned a T-shirt design company entitled St. Jolly's Art. He was also involved with a community of birdwatching photographers who were interested in hawks in Central Park. His snapshots regularly appeared on blogs tracking the birds in the area.


Police identified the co-worker victim as 41-year-old Steven Ercolino, a salesman who lived with his girlfriend in Hoboken, New Jersey and was a vice president at Hazan Imports. He was a 1992 graduate of the State University of New York at Oneonta. Ercolino's brother, Paul, said that Steven never mentioned having any problems with a co-worker and described him, along with others that knew him, as a gregarious, outgoing family man.

Ercolino and Johnson had filed harassment complaints against each other and Johnson had reportedly threatened to kill Ercolino before. There were disputes between the two due to Ercolino not promoting Johnson's T-shirt line. One incident that was reported to the police happened inside an elevator, when Johnson threw his elbow at Ercolino, who responded by grabbing Johnson's throat and threatening him.

In another incident, in April 2011, Johnson reportedly told Ercolino "I'm going to kill you" while on the elevator. Despite Johnson being laid off in 2011, he visited the company on a regular basis afterwards and reportedly had confrontations with Ercolino each time.


At a news conference shortly after the shootings, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that it appeared that police might have accidentally shot civilians during the incident. The day following the shooting, Kelly confirmed that all of the bystanders had been wounded as a result of police gunfire.

The New York Police Department released a brief surveillance video of the shootout between Johnson and the police. The footage shows Johnson wearing a suit, holding a briefcase, and raising his handgun at the officers, who then responded with gunfire. Johnson is shown being struck by the police's bullets, dropping his briefcase, and falling to the ground on his back. People sitting on a bench and walking nearby are shown immediately fleeing the scene.

A second video was caught by an Australian tourist from street level, where officers are seen with weapons pointed at Johnson lying on his back, just after he was shot. The camera then pans to the nearby streets where bystanders were struck, and to pedestrians trying to hide behind buildings during the ensuing chaos.


Gunman Dies After Killing at Empire State Building

By James Barron - The New York Times

August 24, 2012

The sidewalks in Midtown Manhattan were swarming with the morning crush of office workers, and crowds of tourists were already pushing their way into one of the world’s most famous buildings. Around the corner, in the shadow of the Empire State Building, stood a 58-year-old man wearing a suit and carrying a black canvas bag. Inside the bag, the police said, was a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun.

The man, Jeffrey T. Johnson, lurked behind a van parked outside the drab office building that houses the apparel importer that had laid him off almost two years ago. When Mr. Johnson spotted Steven Ercolino, a sales executive at the company who was on his way to work, he made his move.

Mr. Johnson, an office rival of Mr. Ercolino’s who the police said held Mr. Ercolino responsible for the loss of his job, pulled out the gun, fired at Mr. Ercolino five times, put the gun away and calmly walked off, trying to blend into the crowd as Mr. Ercolino lay bleeding on the sidewalk.

Mr. Johnson turned the corner onto Fifth Avenue. A few feet ahead were the shiny front doors of the Empire State Building — and two police officers who had been alerted to the shooting by a construction worker.

From about eight feet away, the officers confronted Mr. Johnson and when he pulled out his gun, they opened fire, shooting a total of 16 rounds. Mr. Johnson was killed and nine bystanders were wounded, perhaps all by police bullets.

The gunfire echoed outside one of New York’s must-see tourist destinations, where visitors were already riding the elevators to the observation decks nearly a quarter-mile up. Suddenly, on the streets below, there was pandemonium: Frightened passers-by were dashing into nearby stores and diving behind racks of merchandise. Construction workers were running for cover. Passengers on buses rumbling down Fifth Avenue were yelling, “Get down, get down.”

“It was like nothing I’d ever heard in my life,” said Joseph Cohen, 27, who was buying coffee in a fast-food restaurant across Fifth Avenue from the Empire State Building. He said he assumed “it was balloons popping or something” until he saw the commotion on Fifth Avenue — and Mr. Johnson’s body lying on the sidewalk.

Of those hit or grazed by bullets, eight were New Yorkers, their ages ranging from 21 to 56. The ninth was a 35-year-old woman from Chapel Hill, N.C. They were taken to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital and Bellevue Hospital Center, where officials said their wounds were not life-threatening. Six of the nine had been treated and released by Friday night, the police said.

The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said one witness had told investigators that Mr. Johnson had fired at the two officers, “but we don’t have ballistics to support that.” Mr. Browne said “it’s possible” that the officers had shot him before he could return fire.

One officer fired seven times, the other nine times, Mr. Browne said.

Mr. Johnson, 58, and Mr. Ercolino, 41, had a long history of antagonism. They had scuffled in an elevator in April 2011, after Mr. Johnson lost his job at the company. They took their grievance to the Midtown South police station, arriving within 15 minutes of each other, Mr. Browne said. He said that Mr. Johnson claimed Mr. Ercolino had threatened him and that Mr. Ercolino claimed Mr. Johnson had threatened him.

Mr. Ercolino was shot at 9:03 a.m. and Mr. Johnson “minutes later,” Mr. Browne said.

Witnesses said that as Mr. Johnson stepped out from behind a van parked in front of the building where Hazan Imports has its office, at 10 West 33rd Street, he gave no indication of what was about to unfold.

One witness, Darrin Deleuil, said he saw Mr. Ercolino fall to the ground and rushed over to help him up, not realizing he had been shot. “A guy with a briefcase just came and just stood right over him and just kept shooting him — boom, boom, boom,” Mr. Deleuil said.

“He looked right at me,” he said, but never turned the gun on him. “He wanted every bullet for that guy.”

And then the gunman crossed the street and walked toward Fifth Avenue as construction workers standing on scaffolding outside the Empire State Building yelled a warning: “Guy in the gray suit, guy in the gray suit.”

“We see a guy just walking nonchalantly,” said another construction worker on the scaffolding, Guillermo Tarzlaff, an electrical worker.

Mr. Browne said that once Mr. Johnson turned onto Fifth Avenue, he stayed close to the curb, threading his way around large flower pots. “You wouldn’t make him as somebody who had just killed somebody,” Mr. Browne said. As he approached the two officers in front of the Empire State Building, Mr. Johnson took out his gun “and tried to shoot the cops and kill the cops,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told reporters at the scene.

The officers’ bullets struck Mr. Johnson at least seven times.

One security surveillance video clearly shows the encounter.

“It’s great video — you see him drawing on the cops, you see the whole thing,” a law enforcement official said. “The cops had no choice.”

Mr. Browne said neither officer had been involved in a shooting before.

The police blocked off streets around the Empire State Building for hours, disrupting traffic in one of Manhattan’s busiest areas, but reopened them by late afternoon.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said Mr. Johnson’s gun was a Spanish-made semiautomatic pistol. Law enforcement officials said Mr. Johnson bought it in 1991 in Sarasota, Fla., where he attended art school.

Mr. Kelly said Mr. Johnson, who appeared to have no criminal record, had worked at Hazan Imports for six years. “During a downsizing at the company,” Mr. Kelly said, “Johnson was laid off.”

Hazan Imports was founded about 40 years ago by two brothers, Isaac and Ralph Hazan. Isaac Hazan died in 2009. By late 2010 or early 2011, with revenue falling, the company did some cost-cutting and laid off Mr. Johnson.

One Hazan Imports employee, who insisted on anonymity for fear of upsetting his colleagues and the victims, said Mr. Johnson appeared to take his layoff in stride. But on Friday morning, he turned to violence.

Hours later one of the people who was wounded — Robert Asika, 23, a ticket seller for Gray Line tours — emerged from Bellevue Hospital Center with his right arm in a sling. “The bullet came in and went out,” he said. “I’m very lucky.”

Mr. Asika said he had been shot by a police officer. Asked how he felt about that, he said, “I guess, you know, stuff happens.”

Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, Penn Bullock, Joseph Goldstein, Randy Leonard, Sarah Maslin Nir, Sharon Otterman, Wendy Ruderman, Alex Vadukul and Vivian Yee.


Long Before Carnage, an Office Grudge Festered

By Michael Wilson, David M. Halbfinger and Sharon Otterman - The New York Times

August 24, 2012

The two men at the center of a fatal shooting outside the Empire State Building on Friday had brushed shoulders for years — often literally, two large egos stuffed into a small office — and yet could hardly have been less alike.

Neighbors and co-workers described them: Jeffrey T. Johnson, 58, a slight, meticulous artist, the first one to work in the morning and the last one out, without so much as a look outside for fresh air in between; Steven Ercolino, 41, a well-built, confident salesman used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it. The artist chafed at what he saw as the salesman’s casual bossiness, they said, and the two never got along.

Years passed this way at the company, Hazan Imports, which sold handbags and belts, until Mr. Johnson was laid off almost two years ago.

And yet, the casual observer would not have known it, to look at him. He put on the same suit every morning: the Upper East Side’s own Willy Loman, dressing for a job he no longer had. He picked up his newspaper on the front stoop and walked two blocks to McDonald’s for breakfast. Months after his dismissal, he showed up at the building where he once worked, across West 33rd Street from the famous skyscraper, and confronted the salesman, a much larger man, in an elevator. The two came close enough to blows — Mr. Johnson throwing an elbow, Mr. Ercolino grabbing his throat and threatening him — that it was reported to the police.

The feud ended Friday. Mr. Johnson left his East 82nd Street walk-up in his suit, as he did every other day. And Mr. Ercolino took the PATH train from Hoboken, N.J., where he lived with his girlfriend, to the West 33rd Street building near Fifth Avenue. A co-worker saw him and shouted for him to wait, then they walked toward the entrance together. They were almost there when the co-worker, Irene Timan, 35, saw Mr. Johnson lurking behind a white van.

“I saw him pull a gun out from his jacket, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to shoot him’ — and I wanted to turn and push Steve out of the way,” Ms. Timan said. “But it was too late. Steve screamed, Jeff shot him, and I just turned and ran.”

Mr. Ercolino died. Mr. Johnson was shot to death moments later by two police officers after pulling the gun again and aiming at them, according to the police; nine people were wounded in gunfire.

All because of — what? Those who worked with both men struggled to describe the root of their animosity hours later.

“You chalk it up to two guys being around each other too much,” one longtime co-worker said of their hostile relationship.

Mr. Johnson was born in 1953; he said he had a Japanese mother and an American father. A childhood love of comic books seems to have forged his career. He had returned to the form in recent months, posting intricate illustrations of cars on a Web site he ran,, as a way to make money selling T-shirts. “This gallery of illustrations,” he wrote in a caption beneath his rendering of a muscle car, “is an homage to all the great art and artists featured in all the automotive comics my friends and I pored over as kids during the ’60s.”

He attended Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla., from 1978 to 1980, leaving a year shy of the three years required for a certificate, the school said Friday.

Sometimes he spoke cryptically of past military service. “He was in the Marines, or Special Forces,” the co-worker said. “He was in Vietnam. There’d be things he’d say — ‘Oh, that’s not the way it’s done,’ or ‘I can’t talk about that.’ ” Mr. Johnson told a former landlord, Kathleen Walsh, that he was a sharpshooter. Several branches of the military, including the Army, the Navy and the Marines, said Friday there was no record of his service, but a law enforcement official said he may have served in the Coast Guard.

Around 2005, Mr. Johnson joined Hazan Imports, a company founded about 40 years ago by the brothers Isaac and Ralph Hazan.

“This guy was very eccentric,” the co-worker said. “He was so detail-oriented. If he had a free minute, he would start doing origami. The things that came out of his mind were so original and creative, you knew that his mind didn’t work the same way as normal people. But you worked with the guy so long, that you just chalked it up to Jeff being Jeff.”

Mr. Johnson told Ms. Walsh that he hated the work and was not paid enough.

Mr. Ercolino, a graduate of the State University of New York at Oneonta, arrived in 2005 as a vice president for sales, having worked at Betesh Group, which sold handbags and other products, and at the Jump Apparel Group. By the time he hired Ms. Timan a year later, the artist’s discomfort with the salesman was on full display.

The owner, Ralph Hazan, pulled Ms. Timan aside and warned that Mr. Johnson might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Everyone in the office “walked on eggshells” around him, co-workers said.

Not Mr. Ercolino. “If Steve needed something, rather than go to one of the owners, he’d go right to Jeff,” the longtime employee said. “ ‘I need a sample in blue, right away.’ And Jeff wouldn’t take orders from him.”

It escalated.

“As time goes by, you could walk down the hallway and see an elbow being thrown or a shoulder being shoved, or a comment.”

Mr. Johnson seemed unimpressed by the size of his rival, about 5 feet 10 inches tall and 220 pounds, six or seven inches taller than Mr. Johnson and twice his weight. “Steve is a very laid-back guy; he’s a salesman,” the co-worker said. “But Jeff is regimented, military, a chain-of-command type.”

Ms. Timan said of Mr. Johnson: “He would taunt Steve, push him.”

A decline in sales led to the sort of belt-tightening that occurred all over, and Mr. Johnson, who could be replaced with a lower-paid employee, was an easy target. “He didn’t freak out,” the longtime co-worker said. “He wanted to keep his computer; fine, no problem. There were no threats, none of that.” Once, the co-worker ran into Mr. Johnson on the street; he seemed fine.

Mr. Johnson was fastidious at his apartment, which he shared only with cats. He ran his vacuum early in the morning. One neighbor, Gisela Casella, 71, thought the man in the suit worked at a bank. “He was the nicest guy,” she said. “I never saw him with a woman, and I would always say to myself, Boy, he deserves a nice girlfriend.”

He seems to have spent more time drawing women than dating them. A series of six illustrations of an attractive woman on a motorcycle, on his Web site, describe a chance encounter in Florida in 1983, at a gas station. “Her blonde tresses fell just below the taut line of her shoulders and was being teased by a sea breeze coming off the bay,” Mr. Johnson wrote. He told her, “Nice bike,” and she replied, “in a soft, throaty voice, ‘Fast bike.’ ”

He went out for his breakfast every morning in his suit, returned with his McDonald’s bag and seemed to stay up on the third floor all day.

Months after he was let go, he returned to his old office building, on April 27, 2011. Ms. Timan was there when Mr. Ercolino entered, flustered, and told her what had just happened.

“Steve was leaving the elevator, Jeff was walking in, and Jeff elbowed him,” she recalled. “Steve had finally had enough, so he grabbed Jeff by the throat, and said, ‘If you ever do anything like this again, I’m going to kill you.’ ”

Ms. Timan told Mr. Ercolino to file a police report. “He went down to the precinct and called me from there, and he said, ‘You’re never going to believe this, but Jeff just left, and he filed a complaint against me!’ ” Both told the police the other had threatened him. According to the police, the artist blamed the salesman for not selling enough of the items he had designed.

Francis Ercolino, Mr. Ercolino’s father, said that he spoke with his son daily and that he never mentioned any problems at work. He said that Steven’s sister and two brothers, along with his nephews and nieces, were heartbroken.

“He was just a wonderful person,” he said. “Just write that. I have nothing else to say.”

After the scuffle in April 2011, there is no reason to believe Mr. Johnson and Mr. Ercolino saw each other again, until Friday. Mr. Johnson emerged from his building at the usual time and in the usual attire, said his superintendent, Guillermo Suarez, 72, whom everyone calls Bill.

“He said, ‘How you doing, Bill?’ and he never came back to the building,” Mr. Suarez said.

Mr. Ercolino, just back from a Mexican vacation with his girlfriend, walked toward the office with Ms. Timan, telling her he wasn’t feeling well. Ms. Timan spotted Mr. Johnson at the van.

“He didn’t say one word,” said Ms. Timan. “He just had the look of death, of evil, on his face.”

“He just started shooting,” she said, “and he did not stop.”



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