Worker recalls helping stop gunman in Midtown shooting

August 26, 2012 5:42:56 PM PDT
A construction worker who alerted police to a gunman who shot a former coworker near the Empire State Building says he was determined to stop the shooter from getting away.

Brian Dillon tells the Daily News that he saw Jeffrey Johnson walking away into the Fifth Avenue crowd after Friday's shooting.

Police say Johnson killed Steven Ercolino outside a building where they had worked together.

Dillon was working on a loading dock outside the Empire State Building when he saw Johnson pumping shots into the head of a man on the sidewalk.

Dillon followed the gunman and flagged down two officers. Johnson pulled out a gun and was shot to death. Nine bystanders were wounded.

Dillon says he's just glad he was there to help.

All nine people wounded during the confrontation between police and Johnson were struck by bullets fired by the two officers, police said Saturday, citing ballistics evidence.

Officer Craig Matthews fired seven times and Officer Robert Sinishtaj fired nine times at Johnson on bustling midtown block Friday morning after Johnson, who'd shot a former co-worker to death, brazenly pointed his pistol at the officers.

Police had said that nine others were wounded likely by stray or ricocheting police bullets, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly confirmed that Saturday.

He says that based on ballistic tests and other evidence, "it appears that all nine of the victims were struck either by fragments or by bullets fired by police."

Meanwhile, investigators are examining security camera footage of the confrontation between police and Johnson.

Police are also searching Johnson's apartment for more clues into what sparked the shooting.

Six of the wounded bystanders are now out of the hospital.

Investigators are now trying to piece together what caused Johnson, a T-shirt designer, to ambush Steve Ercolino, an apparel company vice president, a day earlier outside the Manhattan offices of the company where they once were colleagues.

Police said Johnson hid behind a car and then killed Ercolino with five gunshots as he arrived for work. Johnson then was shot by two police officers who confronted him on a busy sidewalk.

Security camera footage showed the officers had only an instant to react when Johnson suddenly turned as they approached and pointed his gun at them, his arm cocked as if to fire.

Their encounter was over in eight seconds. The officers, who had been standing nearly close enough to shake hands with Johnson and had no opportunity to take cover, fired almost immediately.

The gunshots rang out on the Fifth Avenue side of the Empire State Building at 9:00 a.m., a time of day when the sidewalks around the building are packed with pedestrians and merchants were opening their shops.

"People were yelling 'Get down! Get down!", said Marc Engel, an accountant who was on a bus in the area when he heard the shots. "It took about 15 seconds, a lot of 'pop, pop, pop, pop, one shot after the other."

Afterward, he saw the sidewalks littered with the wounded, including one person "dripping enough blood to leave a stream." .


Johnson was laid off last year by Hazan Imports where he was a designer of women's accessories. He had been employed for six years. He was fired during downsizing.


He returned Friday morning and during a dispute with a former co-worker, identified as Steven Ercolino outside the building, Johnson pulled out a gun and shot him 3 times, killing him.

Johnson felt Ercolino, an account executive at his same workplace, did not sell enough of the line of t shirts he was producing. These disputes lead to his layoff. It was not a boss employee relationship.

The victim's father, Frank Ercolino, released a statement saying: "We're a very close family and we're not talking to reporters now. Steven was a wonderful son. He was very good son and person."

On April 27 2011, Johnson and his victim walked into midtown south police precinct and made "cross complaints" against each other. They each alleged altercations by the other. They made the complaints of 15 minutes of each other. There is no evidence of injuries or attempts they went to court to seek restraining orders.

Friday morning, a friend of Ercolino came out of the building and saw the shooter out of the corner of her eye. A witness to the incident, she told detectives that the suspect approached the victim without saying a word. She said he fired five times at the victim, including standing over him after he dropped to the ground and continuing to shoot.

Johnson then calmly walked about a half a block eastbound to Fifth Avenue, and crossed 33rd Street northbound. This is caught on surveillance camera.

Johnson was followed across the shooting scene by two construction workers, who notified two uniformed police officers stationed in front of the Empire State Building.

The officers approached the suspect, who was in a suit and tie and carrying a black bag. The officers saw him reaching into a black canvas bag, which also contained an extra clip of six rounds. The suspect took out a 45 caliber gun, which he held chest high, and extended his arm.

Police believe the shooter tried to fire his weapon but it jammed.

Johnson bought the weapon legally in 1991 when he was resident of Sarasota, Florida and brought it to NYC when he moved here a year later. He did not have a permit for it.

One witness says he fired, but detectives believe it is possible he was shot before he was fired upon. In surveillance video you see him raising his arm and then the officers shoot at him.

"We have on tape - the perpetrator pulled his gun out and tried to shoot at the cops. Whether he got off any bullets or not, to be determined. How many he shot earlier, to be determined. We do know the cops fired back, the tape clearly shows the guy holding a gun out and trying to kill the police officers," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

The suspect had a capacity of firing. One round had been ejected, it's unknown if it was fired.

There is significant damage to the flower pots believed to be caused by the bullet. Detectives believe some of the bullet fragments hit the flower plots and then struck the victims. The flower pots are strategically placed on a curb line to thwart and attempt of a vehicular car bomb.

The suspect was likely shot at least seven times. He has 10 bullet holes in him, but some of those were in and out bullets.

It would appear the suspect was waiting for his victim to show up for work. He was standing in the entrance when his co-worker showed up. That woman engaged in a conversation with the victim and noticed Johnson.

It was unknown if he was hiding and unknown what he was doing there.

It was not unusual for Johnson to show up at the office after he was fired. He was known for periodically showing up at the office to collect his insurance benefits. Detectives have not heard that he was expected Friday.

Officers are assigned permanently to a precinct Bronx but they are part of the Critical Response Vehicle Unit. Those officers come from around the city and watch high profile locations.

The video camera does not show muzzles from weapons firing. The camera is part of a security ring that feeds into a coordination center in Lower Manhattan.

The surviving victims include:

35-year-old man from Jamaica, Queens

33-year-old woman from 38th Street, she lives near the shooting

56-year-old woman from the Upper West Side

21-year-old man from the Bronx

35-year-old woman from Chapel Hill, NC

43-year-old woman from Brooklyn

30-year-old woman from the Bronx

35-year-old man from the Bronx

23-year-old man from the Bronx

The gunshots rang out at a time of day when the sidewalks around the building are packed with pedestrians and merchants were opening their shops.

"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.

Johnson had no criminal history, police said.

Hazan Imports is located near the Empire State Building, but not inside it, Mayor Bloomberg said.

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 Empire State Building released a statement which said: "Today, a disgruntled employee of a company which neighbors the Empire State Building fatally shot a former co-worker. Two police officers who are part of the NYPD's normal coverage of the area around the Empire State Building approached and fatally shot the man. Nine others were injured in the shooting. This unfortunate event had nothing to do with the Empire State Building or with terrorism. The Empire State Building and its Observatories remained open throughout, and continue to be open and operating. At no time was there any related activity in the building. We express our deepest concern for those innocents who were hurt and our appreciation to the NYPD." - Anthony Malkin, Malkin Holdings.

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.

Some information from the Associated Press


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