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NYPD: Officers' Bullets Wounded Nine in Shooting

All nine bystanders wounded in a wild shooting outside the Empire State Building were struck by bullets fired by two officers, police officials said yesterday.

The gunman, Jeffrey Johnson, pointed a .45-caliber pistol at the cops Friday morning but didn't get off a shot, police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

The fusillade of police bullets erupted minutes after the laid-off Johnson, 58, killed a former co-worker, Steven Ercolino, 41, on West 33rd Street. The two had been feuding and once grappled in an elevator, police said.

Ercolino was shot five times in the head at 9:03 a.m., according to police. Two minutes later, a security camera video shows Johnson suddenly turning and pointing his weapon at the officers as they approached from behind on a busy Fifth Avenue sidewalk. The video shows the gunfire and people running for cover.

Kelly said it appears the police had no choice but to shoot. "I believe it was handled well," he said at a community event in Harlem.

Three of the bystanders were struck by whole bullets fired by the officers, while six others were grazed "by fragments of some sort," Kelly said.

Standing less than 10 feet from the gunman, both cops opened fire with their Glock 9-mm service weapons. The guns were loaded with hollow-point bullets that are more prone to splintering on impact with hard surfaces, a police source said.

Johnson, shot seven to nine times, died of multiple chest wounds, said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the city's medical examiner.

Officer Craig Matthews, 39, fired seven shots and Officer Robert Sinishtaj, 40, fired nine times, police sources said. Both men are 15-year veterans -- normally assigned to a Bronx precinct but on counterterrorism patrol Friday.

One bullet remained in Johnson's seven-shot semiautomatic handgun and another was found ejected without having been fired, Kelly said.

An expert who reviewed the shooting video concluded Saturday officers' actions were justified "beyond dispute."

"This shows there's no safe way to have an armed confrontation on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue with someone who had just killed somebody," said Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

From Johnson's East 82nd Street apartment, police seized computer hard drives, a plastic case with 15 rounds of .45-caliber ammunition and an empty box of .45-caliber bullets, a law enforcement source said. They also found books on self-protection and fighting techniques, including one for "deadly marksman/sniper," the source said.

Two of the shooting victims were still at Bellevue Hospital Center Saturday. They were in stable condition after surgery for non-life-threatening wounds, police said.

Madia Rosario, 43, of Brooklyn, was released from Bellevue Saturday after being treated for a bullet wound. "It has been a hard time," said her husband, Rafael Rosario. "Thank God the situation wasn't as bad as it could have been."

There were no physical signs of the shooting 24 hours later. Activity around the Empire State Building returned to normal as police continued to search for clues.

Ercolino's brother, meanwhile, said he's helping his parents remain focused on coping with the heartbreaking loss of their son, not their outrage over the killer.

"The anger. That's all going to come out. I'm just trying to keep it together," Paul Ercolino said Saturday in a public park across the street from the apartment complex in Warwick, Orange County, where his parents have lived for the past six years.

Ercolino, 46, said he saw his parents -- Frank and Rosalie -- for the first time yesterday after they returned from a trip to New York City to identify their son's body. "It's sick, just a sick thing that happened," he said. "Just devastation."

Copyright 2012 - Newsday

McClatchy-Tribune News Service