Police Recover Bag Believed To Belong To Gunman Containing Knives, Gasoline, Bible, More

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A gunman who opened fire outside a cathedral in Morningside Heights was fatally shot by police Sunday afternoon.

It happened just before 4 p.m. outside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at West 112nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

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About 200 spectators were outside for the cathedral’s annual Christmas concert, which was held outdoors for the first time this year because of the pandemic.

A gunman who opened fire outside a cathedral in Morningside Heights was fatally shot by police on Dec. 13, 2020. (Credit: CBS2)

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea says around the time the event ended at 3:45 p.m., the gunman began firing shots in front of the doors of the cathedral.

The crowd scrambled, terrified.

“It was absolutely terrifying. At first I was in such shock, I couldn’t move,” witness Judy Romer said.

“The first think I thought that, I thought it was a terrorist attack,” witness Eleanore Sans said. “He was standing at the top of the stairs when I saw him. I just looked at the stairs and I saw him shooting randomly.”

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“I heard what I thought were shots, and I didn’t know if they were real or fake. I turned around and I saw a man standing at the top of the steps in front of the doors with, he had two hands in the air,” witness Erica Lansner said. “I just tore out of there, I ran as fast as I could. There were people actually already had stumbled and fallen on the ground, and I thought they might’ve been shot, and I was just thinking, get the hell out of here as fast as I can. So I ran really fast. I must have heard, I don’t know, 15-20 shots.”

Some people ran for safety inside the cathedral, including the Manhattan Borough President’s chief of staff, Jessica Mates.

“Once inside, we heard more shots, so, you know, it sounded like, I don’t know how many there were, but it sounded like a lot of shots going on,” Mates said.

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An NYPD detective and an officer assigned to the cathedral event and a sergeant who was on detail nearby at St. Luke’s Hospital responded and returned fire. Shea says about 15 shots were fired by police and the gunman fired multiple shots.

Witnesses say they heard police ordering the man to drop his weapon as he dipped in and out of cover.

The gunman was struck at least once in the head and killed, Shea said.

No one else was injured.

“It is by the grace of God today that we don’t have anyone struck,” Shea said.

Police say they were fortunate that there were fewer people than is normal for this annual event.

Investigators recovered two semi-automatic guns from the scene. They also found a bag that they believe belonged to the gunman. It contained a full can of gasoline, knives, rope, wire, a roll of tape and a bible.

Shea also said that multiple witnesses told detectives the gunman was yelling, “Kill me.”

“After he kept saying ‘shoot me’ and daring the police officers, then he said, ‘OK, go ahead and kill me. Kill me,'” Romer said.

Detectives don’t believe the man was targeting someone at the church, but they say he may have wanted to end his life by police gunfire, CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reports.

Police have tentatively identified the gunman as a 52-year-old man from the Bronx, but they are waiting on fingerprints to confirm before releasing his name. Shea says the individual has several prior arrests.

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