By Jeenah Moon and Peter Szekely
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A gunman shouting “Kill me!” opened fire from the steps of New York City’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine just after an outdoor choir performance there on Sunday, and was himself shot dead by police, according to police and a Reuters photographer at the scene.
No one else was struck by gunfire thanks to quick action by three officers on the scene who confronted the suspect, New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told reporters following the late-afternoon violence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
The suspect, who was not identified, was struck at least once in the head during the gun battle and was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Shea said police fired a total of 15 rounds at the suspect.
Police recovered two semiautomatic handguns from the scene, and a bag apparently belonging to the suspect that contained a full can of gasoline, rope, wire, several knives, a Bible and tape, according to Shea.
“I think we can all surmise the ill intentions of the proceeds of this bag,” he added.
The shooting occurred outside the landmark cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of New York, located at Amsterdam Avenue and West 112th Street, about 15 minutes after the conclusion of an outdoor choir performance on the church steps attended by about 200 people.
The choir’s annual Christmas holiday concert had been moved outside in keeping with COVID-19 health safety rules. The performers and most of the audience had either gone inside the church or left before the shooting began, Shea said.
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.
“Thankfully, this year with COVID, there was a much smaller event than normal,” Shea said at the scene. “It is by the grace of God today that we don’t have anyone struck.”
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.
Footage from local news media showed police searching a car parked nearby as well.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter that “quick action of our NYPD officers kept the crowd safe.”
(Reporting by Jeenah Moon and Peter Szekely in New York City; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Diane Craft)