A laid-off women's accessories designer has shot a former co-worker to death in front of the Empire State Building, causing a chaotic showdown with police in front of one of the world's best-known landmarks.

Police killed the suspect, Jeffrey Johnson, in a Friday morning shootout that wounded at least nine others. Some may have been hit by officers' bullets. City officials said some of the wounded were grazed and others hit directly.

Police say the six people wounded have been treated at a hospital and released. Three other victims are being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. One of them is being treated for elevated blood pressure.

Investigators say the evidence collected so far suggests that Johnson didn't fire at police.

The gunshots rang out on the Fifth Avenue side of the building at around 9 a.m., a time of day when the sidewalks around the building are packed with pedestrians and merchants were opening their shops. 

"People were yelling 'Get down! Get down!'" said Marc Engel, an accountant who was on a bus in the area when he heard the shots. "It took about 15 seconds, a lot of pop, pop, pop, pop, one shot after the other."

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Emergency personnel respond to reports of several people being shot outside the Empire State Building. (WABC-TV/AP)

Afterward, he saw the sidewalks littered with the wounded, including one person "dripping enough blood to leave a stream."

After the shootout, crowds of tourists and people on their way to work gathered along 34th Street, which was shut down by police. Police helicopters buzzed overhead and swarms of officers were gathered around the crime scene.

Gunman shot victim in the head

Wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase, Johnson fired three times at his 41-year-old ex-coworker outside Hazan Imports, shooting him in the head, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

Johnson, 58, and the victim, identified by city officials as company vice president of sales Steven Ercolino, had traded accusations of harassment when Johnson worked there.

'It took about 15 seconds, a lot of pop, pop, pop, pop, one shot after the other.'  —Marc Engel, witness

Johnson walked away, and a construction worker who saw the shooting followed Johnson and alerted two police officers, a detail regularly assigned to patrol the 1,454-foot skyscraper since the 9/11 terror attacks, officials said.

Surveillance video footage shows Johnson reaching into a bag, pulling out a .45-calibre pistol and pointing it at officers, Kelly said. The officers drew their weapons and started firing, killing Johnson, Kelly said.

Kelly initially said that Johnson fired on officers, but authorities said ballistics evidence so far doesn't support that.

"These officers ... had absolutely no choice," Kelly said. "This individual took a gun out very close to them and perhaps fired at them." 

The two officers fired a total of 14 rounds, he said. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some of the nine wounded may have been shot by police in the mayhem.

"We do know that the victim is dead and that the perpetrator is dead," added Bloomberg, stressing that it is too early to answer many important questions. "Details are going to change."

"We do know that the victim is dead and that the perpetrator is dead ... Details are going to change."

—New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Johnson's semi-automatic weapon was equipped to fire at least eight rounds; at least one round was left in the clip, police said. The shooter worked at the company near the building for about six years and was laid off because of downsizing, Kelly said. 

Ercolino's profile on the business networking site LinkedIn identified him as a vice president of sales at Hazan Import Corp. It said he was a graduate of the State University of New York at Oneonta.

A man who answered the phone at Ercolino's home in Warwick, northwest of Manhattan, said he was too distraught to talk.

"He was a good son, that's all I can say," said the man, who didn't give his name.

Witnesses describe the chaos

Erica Solar doesn't know who shot her in the back of the knee while she walked to get coffee on her way to work, said her brother, Louis Lleras.

"She just heard shots and she fell to the ground a couple of steps forward and noticed that she was shot," Lleras said.  

Gunshots so close to one of the city's leading tourist attractions immediately prompted fears of terrorism, but federal officials said that wasn't the case, and a guard at the skyscraper said it didn't involve the parts of the building where tourists gather to visit the skyscraper.

Social Media

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Some of the first reports of the shooting were from eyewitnesses at the scene posting to Twitter. See the social media roundup.

"We were just working here and we just heard bang, bang, bang!" said Mohammed Bachchu, 22, of Queens, a worker at a nearby souvenir shop. He said he rushed from the building and saw seven people lying on the ground, covered in blood.

Queens resident Rebecca Fox, 27, said she saw people running down the street and initially thought it was a celebrity sighting, but then saw a woman shot in the foot and a man dead on the ground.

"I was scared and shocked and literally shaking," she said. She said police seemed to appear in seconds. "It was like CSI, but it was real."

Hassam Cissa, 22, of the Bronx, said he saw two bodies on the ground and police applying a white cloth to a man's stomach wound.

Shooting follows Times Square threat

The gunfire came less than two weeks after a knife-wielding man was shot dead by police near Times Square, another tourist-saturated part of the city.

Authorities say police shot 51-year-old Darrius Kennedy after he lunged at officers with a kitchen knife Aug. 12. Kennedy was smoking marijuana in Times Square on a Saturday afternoon when officers first approached, police said.

It was the beginning of an encounter that would stretch for seven crowded blocks.

In 1997, a gunman opened fire on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building, killing one tourist and wounding six others before fatally shooting himself.