report from the Binghampton paper at pressconnects.com
Binghamton shooting: Gunman kills 13, himself at Civic Association
By John Hill
BINGHAMTON -- Fourteen dead. Four hospitalized. A city shaken and a nation horrified.
Abrupt and massive tragedy struck Binghamton on Friday, when a lone gunman went on a mid-morning rampage at the American Civic Association, killing 13 before taking his own life.
Thirty-three people escaped the shooting unharmed but shaken, after a harrowing three-hour ordeal. Twenty-seven people holed up in the basement, others hid in a classroom just feet from the dead.
Many of the victims and survivors were recent immigrants, taking English and citizenship classes and on the path to American citizenship. Others were the teachers of those classes.
The shooting stunned a community that has had just one murder since 2008.
Mayor Matthew T. Ryan called it "the most tragic day in Binghamton history."
An account of the shooting provided by Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski during a press conference at city hall painted a terrifying picture:
Having already blocked the rear door with his car, the man entered the building through the front door firing. He immediately shot a receptionist.
"I don't think there was any conversation. He just came in and shot her," Zikuski said.
The woman, shot in the abdomen, played dead while the man shot and killed another receptionist, then moved left into a classroom to continue his shooting spree.
From under her desk, the injured receptionist called 911 at 10:31 a.m., telling a dispatcher she had been shot and that a man with a handgun was in the building and had fired several more shots.
Binghamton police were on the scene two minutes later. By that time, all the shooting was done. It was unknown how many shots were fired.
Zikuski said police removed 37 people from the building at 131 Front Street, including four injured people who are in critical condition. The dead were left in the building until shortly before 6 p.m.
Police believe the shooter killed himself, though they were awaiting a positive identification before confirming that information. One of the dead was found with a satchel around his neck, filled with ammunition, Zikuski said.
A federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press the shooter had identification saying he was 42-year-old Jiverly Voong. The name is an alias that the man has used in the past, said the official.
Zikuski didn't name the man believed to be the shooter, but said the prime suspect was known to frequent the Civic Association.
According to scanner reports, a 1993 Toyota at the scene was registered to Henry Voong of Johnson City. Zikuski said the car's owner told police the perpetrator borrowed a car to apparently attend a class at the Civic Association.
The man used two semi-automatic handguns. The man who borrowed the Toyota has two handguns registered to him,
Authorities later searched the home of the suspected gunman, carrying out three computer hard drives, a brown canvas rifle case, a briefcase, a small suitcase and several paper bags.
Two handguns were recovered at the scene, but there was "absolutely no indication any rifle was used."
The gunman had recently been let go from IBM, said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, whose district includes Binghamton. The gunman opened fire on a citizenship class, Hinchey told AP.
Zikuski said police debriefed the receptionist who survived and she said it wasn't unusual to have 100 people or more in the center. "I don't know if anybody except the receptionist who survived actually saw the shooter," he said.
Omri Yigal, of Binghamton, said his wife Dolores Yigal, both 53, was in the building. Dolores, who is from the Philippines and wants to become a citizen, was taking English classes at the center. Even now, he doesn't know what has happened with her.
"I've been walking back and forth from (Catholic Charities) to the scene and back home," Omri Yigal said. "The only thing I have right now is hope." Yigal said a police captain told him it was a "gruesome scene down there."
The American Civic Association helps immigrants and refugees with immigration and personal counseling, resettlement, citizenship, family reunification and translators. It also intervenes with emergencies, including fighting hunger and homelessness, according to information from the association's Web site.
City councilwoman Teri Rennia said the tragedy of the shooting was magnified by the fact it happened at such a positive place. "It's even more of an insult that something so heinous happened there," she said.
During an evening news conference at city hall, Gov. David A. Paterson compared the tragedy to recent shootings in Alabama, where nine people were killed, and Oakland, Calif., when four police officers were shot to death.
"And now here in Binghamton, we probably have the worst tragedy and (most) senseless crime in the history of this city," Paterson said. "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?"
Vice President Joe Biden called Ryan from Air Force Two to relay his and President Obama's sympathies, the mayor said.
The situation triggered a massive police response. SWAT teams circled the building. Dozens of ambulances screamed to the site. Around 11:35, a sniper in camouflage climbed a ladder to take a position on the roof of a garage behind the building.
Police and ambulance crews began staging at Oak and Main streets, the site of Binghamton High School, shortly after 10:30 a.m. Local apartments were evacuated and businesses, including a nearby nursing home, were placed under lockdown. The high school was also locked down.
At 2:40 p.m., Binghamton police indicated the situation was over and that a SWAT team was making sure there were no people inside the building.
"We had to repeatedly reassure (the people in the basement) over the next couple of hours that we were coming to get them," Zikuski said.
The police presence drew a large crowd, with many snapping cell phone pictures and speculating on what was occurring. The Broome County Sheriff's Office issued an alert telling people to limit cell phone use, including texting, during the crisis.
Three patients at Wilson Regional Medical Center ranged from serious to critical condition. One patient was treated at Lourdes Hospital and was in stable condition, spokeswoman Kathy Kramer said.
Both hospitals postponed all elective surgeries and called in extra personnel to staff their emergency rooms during the crisis.
Shortly after noon, about 10 people were released from the building, with hands on their heads. The police searched some of them.
A few people were secured with zip-ties around their hands until police could be sure they weren't suspects, Zikuski said. None of the survivors are considered suspects, he said.
Around 12:40 p.m., another 10 were released from the rear of the building, clad in white sheets. They were shaken and hugged each other as they boarded a BC Transit bus.
Family members of the hostages and victims were being told to gather at 232 Main St., Binghamton, while more ambulance crews were on standby. A crisis hotline was established by Broome County government for community and family members who might have had relatives present at the American Civic Association shooting incident. The number is 607-778-3911.
The suspect was initially described as an Asian male in his 20s, between 5-feet 8-inches and 6 feet tall, wearing a bright green nylon jacket and dark-rimmed glasses.
Broome Community College Assistant Professor Tuong Hung Nguyen was asked to work with police to communicate with the shooter. Nguyen is fluent in Vietnamese.
Broome County activated its Emergency Operations Center at the Broome County Public Safety Facility on Front Street and sent out an emergency alert, said Brett Chellis, director of emergency services for Broome.
Marsha Maroney, of the office of development at Catholic Charities, said during the afternoon the organization had 50 family members and friends who were in the association building, and had 25 counselors trying to help their families.
"Trying to help people get through this. The worry is getting to them," said Maroney.
Sen. Thomas W. Libous, R-Binghamton, said the governor called him away from budget hearings on the Senate floor to relay the news. The men both flew to Binghamton for an afternoon press conference.
The Senate extended the same courtesy to Libous as they did to ailing Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, on Thursday, allowing Libous to vote in advance of the budget bills so he could leave.
"Our prayers are certainly with the family members. I know it was at the American Civic Society. I have a lot of very, very close and dear friends there," Libous said on the Senate floor. "As we get details, we're going to need to do whatever we can to comfort the families."
"When I'm done ranting about elite power that rules the planet under a totalitarian government that uses the media in order to keep people stupid, my throat gets parched. That's why I drink Orange Drink!"