A man has been shot dead by police after opening fire from the steps of New York City’s Cathedral Church of St John the Divine just after an outdoor choir performance.
New York police department spokesman, Sergeant Edward Riley, said the gunman had fired on police, but no officers or bystanders were believed to have been injured in the late-afternoon violence on Manhattan’s upper west side.
The suspect, who was not identified, was rushed to a local hospital in critical condition, the sergeant said. New York police commissioner, Dermot Shea, later said the gunman had died.
“It is by the grace of God today,” Shea said, that no one besides the gunman was struck.
The man had a lengthy criminal history and was carrying a backpack containing a can of gasoline, rope, wire, tape, knives and a well-worn Bible, Shea said. The police commissioner called the actions of the officers “heroic”.
The shooting outside the Episcopal Church (or Anglican) cathedral, located at Amsterdam Avenue and West 112th Street, occurred about 15 minutes after the conclusion of an outdoor choir performance on the steps drew an audience of about 200 people.
The choir’s annual Christmas holiday concert had been moved outside in keeping with Covid-19 health safety rules.
“It was just beautiful, and then at the end this person started shooting. Everybody is in shock,” a cathedral spokeswoman, Lisa Schubert, told the New York Times. “The shooter could have killed a lot of people. There were hundreds of people here and he shot at least 20 times.”
Only about 15 people were still present when the gunman appeared at the top of the steps, screaming, “Kill me”, and “shoot me”, as he fired a handgun, sending bystanders running for cover in panic, according to a Reuters photographer who was on the scene.
Police officers who had taken cover ordered the suspect several times to drop his weapon before shooting him, the photographer said. Members of the choir were already back inside the church by the time of the shooting, which lasted several minutes, she said.
Reuters photographs of the gunman showed him wearing a black winter coat, a white baseball-style cap and a face mask emblazoned with the flag of the Dominican Republic, as he stood wielding two pistols, one in each hand. He also was carrying a large backpack strapped to his shoulders.
Police said officers recovered two firearms from the scene after the shooting.
New York city mayor, Bill de Blasio, said on Twitter that “quick action of our NYPD officers kept the crowd safe”.