BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — A gunman opened fire on a center where immigrants were taking a citizenship exam Friday in downtown Binghamton, killing 13 people before apparently committing suicide.
The suspected gunman carried identification with the name of 42-year-old Jiverly Voong of nearby Johnson City, N.Y., a law enforcement official said.
But the name is an alias that the man has used in the past, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and was talking on condition of anonymity.
“It obviously was premeditated,” said Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski, noting the gunman blocked the rear exit with his car. “He made sure nobody could escape.”
Police did not mention a motive. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, whose district includes Binghamton, said the gunman had recently been let go from IBM in nearby Johnson City.
The man entered a foyer at the American Civic Association and shot two receptionists, Zikuski said. One receptionist was killed, but another pretended to be dead, then crawled a desk and called 911, he said. Police responded within two minutes.
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.”
The gunman entered a room just off the reception area and continued firing, the chief said. He fired on a citizenship class, Rep. Hinchey said.
“People were there in the process of being tested for their citizenship,” Hinchey said in a telephone interview. “It was in the middle of a test. He just went in and opened fire.”
Twenty-six people hid in a boiler room and 37 people were safely removed from the building, Zikuski said. Four people are in critical condition.
Most of the people brought out of the building couldn’t speak English, the chief said.
The suspect’s body was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in an office, according to the law enforcement official who reported the man’s identification.
Waiting outside a Catholic Charities office where counselors were tending to relatives of victims, Omri Yigal said his wife, Delores, was taking English lessons when the gunman attacked. He had no word on what happened to her.
“At this point, I know the scale of what happened, but I just hope Delores is OK,” the Filipino immigrant said. “I haven’t got any information. … The only thing I have right now is hope.”
The gunman’s connection to the center isn’t clear, Hinchey said.
“One of the first questions is going to be, what motivated this?” he said. “What caused this to happen? What was the kind of person who did it?”
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.
Asked if she was aware that he might have been involved in the shooting, she said: “How? He didn’t have a gun. I think somebody involved, not him. I think he got shot by somebody else.”
“I think there’s a misunderstanding over here because I want to know, too,” she said.
The American Civic Association helps immigrants in the Binghamton area with naturalization applications, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The association describes itself as helping immigrants and refugees with counseling, resettlement, citizenship, family reunification and translators.
Alex Galkin, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, said he was taking English classes this morning when he heard a shot and quickly went to the basement with 20 other people.
“It was just panic,” Galkin said.
The association’s president, Angela Leach, “is very upset right now,” said Mike Chanecka, a friend who answered a call at her home as Leach wept in the background.
“She doesn’t know anything; she’s as shocked as anyone,” Chanecka said. “For some reason, she had the day off today. And she’s very worried about her secretary.”
At the junction of the Susquehanna and the Chenango rivers, the Binghamton area was the home to Endicott-Johnson shoe company and the birthplace of IBM, which between them employed tens of thousands of workers before the shoe company closed a decade ago and IBM downsized in recent years.