NEW YORK (Reuters) – Neighbours of Jeffrey Johnson assumed the man who greeted them as he left home in a suit each morning was on his way to work — until Friday when police say he started a gunfight near the Empire State Building that left him and a former co-worker dead.
It turns out Johnson, 58, was not headed off to a job all those mornings. He had lost his position as an accessories designer a year ago, police said.
He returned with a loaded .45-caliber handgun on Friday to his old workplace, Hazan Imports on West 33rd Street, across the street from the Empire Street Building.
About 9 a.m., he shot and killed a 41-year-old former Hazan colleague before being killed by police, officials said. Eight bystanders were wounded on the sidewalk that was filled with commuters, office workers and tourists outside the 102-story landmark, once the world’s tallest building.
Johnson’s neighbours on Manhattan’s Upper East Side were left wondering how the gunman could be the same quiet apartment resident who doted on his cats and petted his neighbour’s dog.
“He wore the same suit every day,” said Gisella Casella, a school crossing guard who lived in the same apartment building as Johnson on East 82nd Street.
“I would only see him in the morning. I thought he went off to work,” she said.
The building superintendent said Johnson walked by every morning, including Friday, to pick up breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s.
“He says, ‘Hi Bill,’ and keeps going,” said the superintendent, Guillermo Suarez, who is known as “Bill” along the quiet block of residential apartments.
“It was the same routine every day, only he didn’t come back to the building,” Suarez said on Friday.
Casella described Johnson as “the nicest guy” who talked about his two cats and was kind to her dog, Buddy.
“Nothing seemed to bother him,” she said. “I think he snapped.”
A slight man with brownish hair, Johnson lived in the building about 18 months, according to the superintendent, who said he doubted few neighbours knew Johnson well.
“Everybody is young people. They get up, go to work, come back late at night,” he said. “So if you are talking about somebody getting to know him, I doubt it very much.”
The incident followed a shooting spree on July 20 in Aurora, Colorado, where a gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 in a movie theater. On August 5, a gunman killed six people and critically wounded three others at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee before being shot to death by police.
“It’s just crazy,” said Auselis Rosario, whose sister-in-law Madia Rosario was shot in the leg outside the Empire State Building in Friday’s shooting. “You get up, you go to work. You may not come home that night.” (Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Peter Cooney)