Police Shot All Nine Bystanders in Empire State Gun Battle, Sources Say

By DNAinfo Staff  on August 24, 2012 5:51pm

NEW YORK CITY — All of the bystanders shot outside the Empire State building Friday were apparently hit by police bullets, law enforcement sources told DNAinfo New York.

Two officers from the 42nd Precinct, on Midtown foot posts after an anti-terrorism exercise, sprayed Fifth Avenue with a fusillade of 16 shots after Jeffrey Johnson, who had killed his former boss around the corner, reached into his satchel and pulled out a .45 caliber pistol, the sources said.

Many of the injuries were "fragment" wounds or ricochets, sources said.

Johnson is clearly seen on video, pointing his pistol at police from a range of 6 to 8 feet, before he was felled by gunfire near the corner of 34th Street.

It was unclear whether Johnson managed to get off a round at cops.

Robert Asika, 23, who was selling tickets to the Empire State Building observatory Friday morning, was left lying in a pool of his own blood after he was caught in the gun battle.

“I saw the guy, he reached into his suit and pulled the gun out,” Asika said. “The cops shot back.”

One officer fired seven rounds, the other nine, sources said.

Asika said Johnson could not have shot him or any of the eight other bystanders.

"Everybody that got hit was from police officers," Asika said. "The way the guy was standing there's no way it would have been the guy."

The bystanders — two women and seven men — were recovering at Bellevue and New York hospitals on Friday.  Most of the wounds were to the lower extremities and none of the victims was in serious condition Friday evening. New York-Presbyterian Hospital released a statement saying its emergency department had treated and released two of the victims, and that one victim had been admitted to the hospital.

Police said late Friday that six of the nine bystanders injured in the shooting had been treated and released, while three were admitted to the hospital for non-life threatening injuries, including one for elevated blood pressure.

Shooting victim Erica Solar, 30, of the Bronx, works on West 37th Street as a receptionist, her brother, Louis Lleras, said outside of Bellevue Hospital on Friday.

She was walking to get coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts when she heard shots, Lleras said.

Solar, who was hit behind her left knee, at first didn't realize she was shot.

"She didn't know whether to run or to duck," Lleras said.

Solar's neighbor Christopher Collins, 44, happened to be riding on the bus on his way to work when the shooting caused the bus to stop short near the Empire State Building.

Collins said he stepped off the bus and saw his Woodlawn neighbor on the ground, bleeding.

"It was a double take. I said, 'Man, that looks like Erica,'" Collins said. "How weird is it to step off the bus and one of the victims to a terrible shooting is your friend?"

Collins said she had somehow obtained a roll of paper towels that she wrapped around her bleeding leg, and was rambling.
 
"She said, 'Am I going to lose my leg? Am I going to die?'" Collins said. "She was in shock, and I thought it was a good sign that she could still feel her toes."
 
Emergency workers took Solar to Bellevue Hospital, with Collins in tow. Collins said she kept talking about her two children, ages 10 and 13, on the way to the hospital.

"She was in shock, and I tried to keep her calm," Collins said.

Lleras told reporters that the bullet was still lodged in Solar's leg and doctors were deciding whether to remove it.

Another victim, Madia Rosario, a 43-year-old mother of two daughters, was on her way to work at Dreamwear, a clothing company one block from the Empire State Building on Madison Avenue and 34th Street, when her sister-in-law says she was shot in the calf crossing the street at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue.

"A lot of people were running like crazy," said Auselia Rosario. "By the time she turned around and she got hit, the shooter was on the ground."

The bullet went right through the Ridgewood resident's leg, and she was recovering at Bellevue Hospital with her husband on Friday, the sister-in-law said.

About 10 co-workers of shooting victim Robert Neekuaye, a Gray Line bus employee, gathered at Bellevue in hopes of visiting their friend, but weren't allowed to see him. They had heard he was shot in the leg, said his co-worker, Rufai Muhammed.

"It was just unfortunate," Muhammed said. "I know the police are doing their work. I'm not blaming them. I tell them to be extra cautious next time."

At a press conference following the shooting, Mayor Michael Bloomberg admitted that some victims may have been struck by police fire.

"There were nine other people who were shot, and some may have been shot accidentally by police officers who responded immediately," Bloomberg said.

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