An unidentified gunman opened fire outside St. John the Divine Cathedral in Harlem on Sunday, even as Christmas carol show was being held at the church. The man was shot dead by the police even as frightened believers ran for cover. None of the church-goers was injured. Reports said the man was wielding a Bible.
"He started shouting, 'Kill me! Kill me!' and shooting at the big metal door in the center [of the church]," a witness told the New York Post.
"At first, I thought it was either the end of the performance, like they made a loud noise [to close the event], or a tire that blew ... But it continued — the shooting — over and over," another witness said.
About 400 people had attended the Christmas event. Police said two semi-automatic guns were in possession of the man, who appeared mentally ill. He wore a black jacket, white baseball cap, and red backpack, police added.
The shooting started immediately after a concert featuring Christmas carols on the steps of the cathedral ended.
Two Firearms Recovered
"We have two firearms recovered. We do not have a count on how many rounds were fired. They are both semiautomatic firearms and we are waiting crime scene to process," Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said at a press conference.
Police also said the man appeared to have the intention to cause serious damage. His bag contained can full of gasoline, a rope, wires, knives and a tape as well. "I think we can all surmise the ill intentions of the proceeds of this bag," the officer said.
Initial investigation revealed that the shooter was not known to any of the local community of believers. "He was shooting it up in the air and toward police ... He started shouting, "Kill me! Kill me!", the police said.
Cathedral Condemns Shooting
The cathedral issued a statement condemning the shooting. "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 statement said.
"It seemed like he was shooting for about a minute," she said of the suspect. "Such a brazen act, taking advantage of such a peaceful audience."
An NYPD sergeant and detective from the 26th Precinct were the first officers to report to the scene after church-goers made as many as 12 911 call following the shooting.