Upstate New York shooting rampage
ends with 14 dead
By William Kates
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/287406.php
BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — A gunman barricaded the back door of a community center with his car and then opened fire on a room full of immigrants taking a citizenship class Friday, killing 13 people before apparently committing suicide, officials said.
Investigators said they had yet to establish a motive for the massacre, which was at least the fifth deadly mass shooting in the U.S. in the past month alone.
The attack came just after 10 a.m. at the American Civic Association, an organization that helps immigrants settle in this country. Police Chief Joseph Zikuski said the gunman parked his car against the back door, "making sure nobody could escape," then stormed through the front, shooting two receptionists, apparently without a word.
The killer, believed to be a Vietnamese immigrant, then entered a room just off the reception area and fired on a citizenship class.
"The people were trying to better themselves, trying to become citizens," the police chief said.
One receptionist was killed, while the other, shot in the abdomen, pretended to be dead and then crawled under a desk and called 911, he said.
Police said they arrived within two minutes.
The rest of those killed were shot in the classroom. Four people were critically wounded.
The man believed to have carried out the attack was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in an office, a satchel containing ammunition slung around his neck, authorities said. Police found two handguns — a 9 mm and a .45-caliber — and a hunting knife.
Thirty-seven people in all made it out of the building, including 26 who hid in the boiler room in the basement, cowering there for three hours while police methodically searched the building and tried to determine whether the gunman was still alive and whether he was holding any hostages, Zikuski said.
Those in the basement stayed in contact with police by cell phone, switching from one phone to another when their batteries ran out, Zikuski said. Others hid in closets and under desks.
Police heard no gunfire after they arrived but waited for about an hour before entering the building to make sure it was safe for officers. They then spent two hours searching the building.
They led a number of men out of the building in plastic handcuffs while they tried to sort out the victims from the killer or killers.
Most of the people brought out couldn't speak English, the chief said.
Alex Galkin, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, said he was taking English classes when he heard a shot and quickly went to the basement with about 20 other people.
"It was just panic," Galkin said.
Zhanar Tokhtabayeva, a 30-year-old from Kazakhstan, said she was in an English class when she heard a shot and her teacher screamed for everyone to go to the storage room.
"I heard the shots, every shot. I heard no screams, just silence, shooting," she said. "I heard shooting, very long time, and I was thinking, when will this stop? I was thinking that my life was finished."
Dr. Jeffrey King, speaking at a Catholic Charities office where counseling was being offered Friday night, said he was certain his mother, 72-year-old Roberta King, who taught English at the community center, was among the dead.
Authorities read a list of survivors and his mother's name wasn't on it, he said.
King, one of 10 children, described his mother as a woman brimming with interests ranging from the opera to the preservation society to collecting thousands of dolls. He recollected a recent conversation in which he told her to enjoy her retirement.
"I said, 'Mom you're in your 70s,' " King said. "She said, 'What? You don't think I enjoy working?'"
President Obama, who was traveling in Europe, said he was shocked and saddened by the shooting, which he called an "act of senseless violence." He said he and his wife, Michelle Obama, were praying for the victims, their families and the people of Binghamton, about 140 miles northwest of New York City.
Gov. David Paterson said the massacre was probably "the worst tragedy and senseless crime in the history of this city." Noting mass killings in Alabama and Oakland, Calif., last month, he said: "When are we going to be able to curb the kind of violence that is so fraught and so rapid that we can't even keep track of the incidents?"
The community center was holding class "for those who want to become citizens of the United States of America, who wanted to be part of the American Dream, and so tragically may have had that hope thwarted today," the governor said. "But there still is an American dream, and all of us who are Americans will try to heal this very, very deep wound in the city of Binghamton."
A string of attacks in the U.S. in the last month left 44 people dead in all.
A gunman killed 10 people and himself in Samson, Ala.; shootings that began with a traffic stop in Oakland, Calif., left four police officers and the gunman dead; an apparent murder-suicide in Santa Clara, Calif., left six dead; and a gunman went on a rampage at a nursing home Sunday, killing seven elderly residents and a nurse who cared for them.