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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
One security surveillance video clearly shows the
“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,
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
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
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, stjollysart.com, 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
“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,
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.”
“As time goes by, you could walk down the hallway
and see an elbow being thrown or a shoulder being shoved, or a
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
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
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