By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 3, 2009 6:00 PM
A gunman walked into an immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y., today and went on a shooting rampage, killing a dozen immigrants in a citizenship class and a receptionist before apparently taking his own life, officials said.
Authorities tentatively identified the gunman as a resident of nearby Johnson City, N.Y., but there was no immediate information on a motive for the shooting.
Before entering the American Civic Association building this morning in the town 135 miles northwest of New York City, the gunman used his car to barricade the back door to prevent people inside from escaping, police said. At one point, at least three dozen people were hiding in the building while awaiting rescue from SWAT teams.
Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski told reporters this afternoon that police found 14 bodies inside the building and that at least four other people were critically wounded. He said a total of 37 people were safely removed from the building.
"We have very good reason to believe that the shooter is among the dead," Zikuski said. He said one body is that of a man with a satchel around his neck containing ammunition. He declined to identify the suspected shooter, saying only that he had ties to the civic association and had borrowed a vehicle to drive there, "apparently to attend a class." New York Gov. David A. Paterson (D), appearing at the same news conference, expressed his "profound outrage at a senseless act of violence in which innocent people were killed, injured and probably traumatized." Citing a series of other recent shootings with multiple victims around the country, he asked, "When are we going to be able to curb the kind of violence that is so . . . rapid that we can't even keep track of the incidents?"
Heavily armed police, SWAT team members wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, FBI agents and other federal law enforcement officers surrounded the building as authorities tried to figure out what was going on inside. Two people were taken out of the building at one point with their hands bound by plastic restraints, but officials later said they were not suspects and that the cuffing was done as a precaution.
The gunman carried identification in the name of Jiverly Voong, 42, but a law enforcement official said the name is an alias that the man has used in the past, the Associated Press reported.
Authorities said the suspect's body was found in an office in the civic association building. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, an official said.
Police recovered two handguns at the scene, authorities said.
At least six people were reported injured in the attack. Five, ranging in age from 20 to over 50, were rushed to the Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City for treatment of gunshot wounds, a hospital spokeswoman said. Their conditions ranged from stable to critical, she said. Another victim, a student from Binghamton University, was being treated at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama deplored the shooting in a statement issued while they were traveling in Europe.
"Michelle and I were shocked and deeply saddened to learn about the act of senseless violence in Binghamton, N.Y. today," Obama said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and the people of Binghamton. We don't yet know all the facts, but my administration is actively monitoring the situation, and the vice president is in touch with Governor Paterson and local officials to track developments."
In the news conference, Zikuski said police received a 911 call at 10:31 a.m. Eastern time from a woman receptionist who said she had been shot by a lone gunman armed with a handgun. The woman was shot in the stomach, and another receptionist was killed, the police chief said.
Police arrived on the scene less than two minutes after the call, and "all the gunfire had ceased by that time," Zikuski said. But it took another four hours to secure the building, as police moved from room to room to ascertain that no other shooters were involved.
The dozen immigrants were killed in a room off the main reception area where they were in a citizenship class, Zikuski said. "These people were . . . trying to better themselves," he said.
According to a preliminary debriefing of the wounded receptionist, the gunman did not say anything as he entered the building and opened fire.
"He just came in and shot her," Zikuski said. "I don't think there was any conversation."