A man was fatally shot by police on the steps of a landmark New York City church Sunday after he began firing two semiautomatic handguns at the end of a service, police said.
The gunfire began just before 4 p.m.
A 45-minute service held on the cathedral steps had just concluded and a crowd of several hundred people was drifting away when the gunman started shooting, sending people running down Amsterdam Avenue screaming and diving to the sidewalk.
A detective, a sergeant and a police officer who were at the event fired 15 rounds, killing the man, said New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.
The gunman was dressed in black with his face obscured by a white baseball cap and a face mask. He held a silver pistol in one hand and a black one in the other as he stepped from behind a stone column at the top of the staircase.
The man had a lengthy criminal history and was carrying a backpack containing a can of gasoline, rope, wire, tape and knives, Shea said. The police commissioner called the actions of the officers “heroic.”
It wasn’t clear if the gunman was aiming at people or firing in the air.
A video posted on social media by one bystander showed officers crouched behind trash cans yelling “drop the gun!” and firing carefully aimed shots at the man for at least a minute and half as he darted in and out from behind a pillar.
Some terrified civilians lay prone at the bottom of the steps, clutching each other during the gunfire. Others cowered behind a lamp post. They ran for safety after the gunman was felled by an officer’s shot.
Before the gunfire began, the service featured members of the cathedral choir standing far apart on the stone steps wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was just beautiful, and then at the end this person started shooting. Everybody is in shock,” a church spokeswoman, Lisa Schubert, told The New York Times. “The shooter could have killed a lot of people. There were hundreds of people here and he shot at least 20 times.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.