BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – 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 massacre, which was at least the fifth deadly mass shooting in the U.S. in the past month alone.
“When are we going to be able to curb the kind of violence that is so fraught and so rapid that we can’t even keep track of the incidents?” asked New York Gov. David Paterson.
The attack came just after 10 a.m. at the American Civic Association, an organization that helps immigrants settle in this country. Police Chief Joseph 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, believed to be a Vietnamese immigrant, 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, shot in the abdomen, pretended to be dead and 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 9 mm and a .45-caliber – and a hunting knife.
The suspected gunman 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 condition of anonymity.
A second law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two handguns were registered to Jiverly Wong, another name the man used. Both officials were not authorized to speak publicly.
The police chief would not confirm the name of the dead man with the ammunition satchel, saying authorities were still trying to establish with certainty that he was the gunman.
“We have no idea what the motive is,” Zikuski said.
He said the suspected gunman “was no stranger” to the community center and may have gone there to take a class.
Thirty-seven people in all made it out of 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 cell phone, switching from one phone to another when their batteries ran out, Zikuski said. Others hid in closets and under desks.
Police heard no gunfire after they arrived but waited for about an hour before entering the building to make sure it was safe for officers. They then spent two hours searching the building.
They led a number of men out of the building in plastic handcuffs while they tried to sort out the victims from the killer or killers.
Most of the people brought out couldn’t speak English, the chief said.
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.”