14 Die at Community Center in N.Y.
Gunman, Believed to Be Among Dead, Fired on Citizenship Class
Saturday, April 4, 2009
BINGHAMTON, N.Y., April 3 -- 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 mass shooting.
The suspect, believed to be a Vietnamese immigrant, carried ID with the name of 42-year-old Jiverly Voong of nearby Johnson City, N.Y., but that was believed to be an alias, said a law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Police Chief Joseph Zikuski would not confirm the name of a dead man who had a satchel with ammunition, saying authorities were still trying to establish with certainty that he was the gunman.
The attack came just after 10 a.m. at the American Civic Association, an organization that helps immigrants settle in this country. 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 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, who was shot in the abdomen, pretended to be dead, 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 9mm and a .45-caliber -- as well as a hunting knife, authorities said.
Thirty-seven people were rescued from 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 cellphone, he said. Others hid in closets and under desks.
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 first lady Michelle Obama were praying for the victims, their families and the people of Binghamton.
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."
A woman who answered the phone at a listing for Henry D. Voong said she was Jiverly Voong's sister but would not give her name. She said her brother had been in the country for 28 years and had citizenship.
"The police just called me and said he got shot," she said. Asked if she was aware that he might have been involved in the shooting, she said: "How? He didn't have a gun."