NEW YORK — A Bible-toting gunman who opened fire at an open air a cappella Christmas choral event, held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, was shot dead by police on Sunday after shouting “Kill me!” according to eyewitnesses.
Images captured by Reuters show moments from the deadly standoff, including pictures of the gunman, New York Police Department Officers, and frightened onlookers running away and huddling at the scene.
“Our Carols for the Community event this afternoon was interrupted by an armed individual, who set off a round of gunfire into the air from our front steps. Thankfully, no injuries were reported among the attendees and the suspect is in custody. It is horrible that our choir’s gift to New York City, a much-needed afternoon of song and unity, was cut short by this shocking act of violence,” the church said in a statement on Facebook after the shooting. “We will remain strong, together, and serve as a safe space for prayer, meditation and celebration during the upcoming holiday season. We are grateful to our first responders, and our prayers are with all those affected by this event.”
Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea said at a press conference that they were still waiting to confirm the identity of the shooter but identification found on the person a shows a 52-year-old man with a lengthy criminal record, including a conviction for second-degree murder in 1990. He also noted that two semiautomatic firearms were recovered from the scene along with a bag filled with gasoline, wire, rope, multiple knives, tape and a Bible.
He praised the heroic officers who responded to the scene and noted that based on the items recovered from the bag, it’s clear the gunman had “ill intentions.”
“It is by the grace of God today that we don’t have anyone struck,” Shea said.
In statement posted on Twitter shortly after the shooting, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the quick action of NYPD officers.
“A peaceful holiday celebration on the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine tonight was disrupted by a man wielding a gun, but the quick action of our NYPD officers kept the crowd safe,” he said.
Lisa Schubert, a cathedral spokeswoman who witnessed the incident, told The New York Times that the gunman started shooting only minutes after the Christmas carol service ended.
“It was just beautiful, and then at the end this person started shooting. Everybody is in shock,” she said. “The shooter could have killed a lot of people. There were hundreds of people here, and he shot at least 20 times.”
Narine Sargsyan told the Times that panicked people began running for cover wherever they could find safety as soon as the shooting started.
“We heard shooting like fireworks, and everyone was like, ‘There was a shooting at this event in front of the church,” Sargsyan, who fled to the nearby Hungarian Pastry Shop, said. “People were panicked because no one knew what was going on. They were running down the street and hiding themselves wherever they could. Some kids hid in the bathroom.”
Officials of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, confirmed that many of the leaders of the diocese were present for the Christmas event and had also witnessed the shooting, including the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel III, the dean of the cathedral, and the Rt. Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche, the bishop of New York.