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Gunshots Fired at New York's City Hall

Aired July 23, 2003 - 14:45   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: If you're just tuning in these pictures coming to us via NY-1 in New York City. A dozen gunshots we're told, rallying across the second floor of city hall today, reportedly injuring two people inside the building here in Lower Manhattan. According to councilman Michael McMahon who Michael just -- or Miles just spoke with. He is saying that he believes that one individual is deceased. Another one possible still holing on. We did bring you pictures early on of two individuals coming out on stretchers. Medics working on them. Possibly a police officers. It looked like they might have been in uniform.
Here's the pictures that we have from earlier via WABC of those two victims who were shot in this shooting -- still trying to figure out if the shooter has been captured or if the shooter is dead.

Right now we've got Maria Hinojosa on the line with us. She's there at city hall. Maria, I don't know if you could you hear the information that we got from Councilman Michael McMahon but maybe you can add to whatever we've been reporting here. Any new information, any new details about the shooter, about the injured individuals in this shooting?

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN URBAN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, what I can tell you, Kyra, is the scene outside city hall right now is somewhat chaotic. You have got city hall closed off now. We had heard reports that it had been evacuated, but, of course, the city council members are saying that some of there are inside, although I'm seeing several city council members here on the outside.

They're leading dogs into the building right now at this time and there are people, police officers, congregating in front of the building on all four corners that I've been able to see, police officers sirens, going off and police vans. A very, worried look on a lot of these plainclothes police officers that I'm seeing walking out now -- a look of concern. I cannot at this point add except for what you have heard. But I can just tell you on the streets, it's a strange situation. You've got a police everywhere, and at the same time, this is a very busy area for pedestrians and business, so you've also got people walking by the police as if nothing quite was going on. So it is quite strange in that sense.

The police are trying to control the traffic now, trying to make room for the police vans that continue to arrive. We've got helicopters overhead so, at this point a lot of look of concern on people as they are trying to figure out just what happened. PHILLIPS: I don't know, Maria, if you are able to -- if there are any witnesses or any police officers, anybody there around you, you might be able to maybe pull in or get on the phone? Maybe you can try and work somebody there close on the scene. I'll just sort of do a quick recap here. Let us know if you are able to grab someone to talk to us, Maria.

HINOJOSA: Kyra, you know what? I've got a city council woman Gale Brewer....

PHILLIPS: Perfect.

HINOJOSA: ...who is with me here. So let me just put you on her phone. It's City Councilwoman Gale Brewer. Just one second.

GALE BREWER, NEW YORK CITY COUNCILWOMAN: All of a sudden we were about to start the city council meeting and we heard shots. We heard about seven shots, really loud. And we dove under our desks and we were piled on top of each other because so many of us had never experienced something like this. And then all of a sudden we were grabbed by some of our colleagues and we ran down the stairs leaving our pocketbooks and our papers just scattered all the way across.

We didn't know if the shots -- they were coming from the balcony, but we didn't know if they were spraying down or they were being shot up up in the balcony. We didn't know if we ran down the stairs if somebody was going to follow us. And we were running really fast. People were tripping. They were falling. They were even falling over the lines in front of the guardrail. And then we ran down into the rotunda of the city hall and then we were told by the police to run even further. People were jumping over the fence that is in city hall parking lot to get out into the street. And it was a very, very, very frightening experience.

PHILLIPS: Councilwoman, I can even hear it in your voice. If you're still with me on the line there, you say the shots came from the balcony. Did you actually see a shooter?

BREWER: No. What happens is the city council has a floor and then there's a balcony above for the public. And on the city council floor there are counsel members, 51 of us, and then a whole lot of staff that sits behind. It was packed with people because we were just about to start. So all we knew was that above us -- you could hear that it was above and there were really, really loud shots coming from above.

PHILLIPS: And so, we were looking at pictures earlier on, councilwoman. We saw two individuals coming out on stretchers. We were trying to identify if they were in uniform or not. It tended to look that way. Do you know anything about the injured parties; who was shot?

BREWER: We don't. We only -- because we couldn't. We were made to go across the street and so all we know is that we heard that there were two police officers wounded. But we were not able to see anything. We only know what we kind of hear on the media and the rumor around across the street.

PHILLIPS: Councilwoman, I think everybody is shocked and amazed how somebody could get into this building with a gun. Could you sort of describe to us the security there at city hall? What type of police force is there at city hall protecting all of you, all the employees within the building?

BREWER: Well, normally you walk into a parking lot that is -- has a house on it. And then you are supposed to go through a metal detector, sort of a second point of check right before you go on to the city hall grounds. And there's a metal detector, I guess, similar to what one sees at a airport. And all of your bags and belongs are supposed to be checked at that metal detector. That's the normal procedure. I don't know how a gun would have gotten through that, but obviously it did.

PHILLIPS: And you said the shots came from the balcony. Explain -- how would someone get on to this balcony? Would you have to enter the front of the building to get on this balcony or is this a balcony that can be accessed from any other -- from the outside or another part of the building?

BREWER: Yes, you do have to enter the front door of city hall and go through the process that I just described in order to get on to the balcony. You go through the two checkpoints and then up the stairs and into the council chambers. And there's, like, a second -- like a special set of stairs for the public and the public goes up into the balcony.

PHILLIPS: So have you seen members of the SWAT team? We're sort of monitoring pictures from different affiliates there. Have you actually seen members of the SWAT making entry into the building and trying to clear the building, secure the building. Is everybody being evacuated at this time?

BREWER: Well, right now we're just outside the city hall parking lot and we -- we don't see who got hit. We understand a couple of police officers and then we heard a rumor that one of our colleagues, James Davis (ph), was hit. He is a former police officer. But I don't know that for a fact.

PHILLIPS: All right. City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, we sure appreciate you getting on the phone there with our Maria Hinojosa and updating us and telling us everything that you know. Thank you so much. We know this has been a pretty traumatizing time for you and the rest of the council members. Thank you very much -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: For our viewers joining us all around the world right now, we want to bring you up to date what you're seeing right now. You're watching live pictures of lower Manhattan, the sky above city hall in New York City, where we're trying to sort out a shooting that occurred inside the council chambers. It happened just within the past hour at the outset of a city council meeting, the portion they call the ceremonials, about half the council members were on the floor of the city council when a shooting erupted in the balcony. According to Councilman Michael McMahon, who we just talked to a few moments ago, a -- either a light-skinned African American or a dark-skinned Hispanic male in his 40s wearing khaki colored clothing shot, using a handgun, silver, he thought perhaps a nine millimeter automatic -- semiautomatic, I should say -- shot at a specific individual, it was his understanding or his belief. And he said he witnessed the shooting of the shooter himself.

So, in other words, a total of two victims. The target initially of the shooter and apparently the shooter himself, whether that shooter was a self-inflicted wound we do not know. That jives with what we saw a little while ago: two people being taken outside of the city council chambers, outside of city hall, which now has been cordoned off -- taken away by ambulances.

Let's get -- shed some more lights on all of this. We're joined on the line by Councilman Charles Barron.

Councilman Barron, were you in the city council chambers at the time, and if so, what did you see and hear.

CHARLES BARRON, NEW YORK CITY COUNCILMAN: Yes, I was. As you said, it was during our ceremonial.

By the way, we're all in a state of (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But it was during our ceremonial period when we give out proclamations prior to the stated meeting, the full meeting. We were all about to go back to our seats and shots rang out. I heard from five to seven shots, and I looked up in the balcony and I saw the shooter. He was walking across the balcony shooting downward. It didn't seem to be random shooting because he was passing people in front of the balcony. At first, I thought it was unreal, something fake or a fake gun or something because as he passed people by, no one seemed to be injured. But then I realized he was shooting at someone who was already down. And I heard five to seven shots and then I looked from my staff members, Vanessa Figueroa (ph) and Paul Washington (ph), my chief of staff, to make sure they were all right and some people were trying to pull me into the committee room.

But I saw the shooter and I saw someone on the ground being shot at. And then more shots rang out and the shooter went down himself.

O'BRIEN: All right.

BARRON: So we -- then we are in the committee room now. They are not letting us out of city hall. The committee room is adjacent -- it's right next to the council chambers. The police are securing the inner parts of the chambers and the balcony where the shooting took place and they got us in the committee room now saying they don't want us to leave yet until they get the crime scene secure.

O'BRIEN: So it is your understanding the two people shot in this case are the first victim and the shooter himself. Are there any others injured?

BARRON: That's all I saw. And I'm not so sure all of that even because everything happened so fast. I know he was shooting down and then I saw him go down. And, you know, I heard five to seven shots. And I don't know whether he was ducking or whether he was hit. But he went down as well. And then it was just chaos, bedlam in the council chambers. People ran under desks and I was still standing because I wanted to make sure I saw my staff and got my staff out of there and somebody was grabbing me to throw me into the committee room, but I insisted that I get my staff, and make sure that they were all right. But I did see that and a lot of chaos just -- then in the committee room there the police are saying that they want to us stay in here for a while.

We looked out the window and we saw two or three stretchers coming out. So I don't know who was hit. You know, we heard some talk of some of the people but I can't validate any of that and nothing is confirmed at this point in terms of who was hit. We all shocked at how the gun got in in the first place, because in city hall you have security on both ends. And people have to go through metal detectors. So how a gun was able to get into city hall is surprising to all of us.

O'BRIEN: Did you get a pretty good look at the shooter? How would you describe him and his demeanor?

BARRON: It seemed like a light-skinned black person or brown- skinned to light-skinned black person who was shooting downward. Looked like he was in his late 30s, early 40s.

O'BRIEN: And was he saying anything?

BARRON: Wasn't saying anything. He was just looking downward and I think it looked like he had a silver gun.

O'BRIEN: And this is obviously a handgun.

BARRON: Yes, silver handgun it looked like.

O'BRIEN: What was -- you said you looked for your staff, which would be a natural reaction.


O'BRIEN: Describe the reaction. Was it outright panic? Were people calm?

BARRON: Oh, yes. It was panic. It was bedlam and it was chaos. People were looking -- had stunned, shocked looks on their faces and didn't know where to go. One person was just running wildly and I grabbed them and told them, "Look, settle down. You don't know what you might run into."

So the area I was in, it was obviously that the person who was doing the shooting wasn't there. So I was trying to get people to stop and be secure rather than to just keep running and not knowing what you're going to run into. But it was just bedlam. Papers going all over the place. The desks were all disheveled and people were panicking and had scared looks on their faces. Some were crying and screaming and I was trying to look around to see that my staff was all right and I wanted to make sure that I saw -- I looked up in the balcony where the shooting was taking place, as well.

O'BRIEN: OK. And -- can -- what are the authorities told you about what is going on right now? I know you're kind of cloistered in a room there.

BARRON: Yes, in the committee room.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Have they told you anything about where they stand on their efforts? I mean, you say the shooter was shot. That implies that there might be relative safety.

BARRON: That's what it appeared to be.

O'BRIEN: They are double checking right now, I presume?

BARRON: Yes. That's what it appeared to be to me because when I looked up in the balcony, after he was shooting at the person downward, then I saw him go down. I don't know whether he was going down to duck or going down from shots. But I did see him go down.

O'BRIEN: OK. And so you don't know? You couldn't determine.

BARRON: I couldn't confirm. I couldn't confirm that the shooter was shot.


BARRON: And who was shot, but it just -- to all of us and even now, people look stunned and in disbelief, you know, to be in the committee room, which is right next to the chambers. Police are coming in and out, just letting us know that they're just trying to secure the crime scene and they don't want us to walk out there and disturb anything and they might even want to talk to people who were in here who may have seen what I have seen.

O'BRIEN: Disbelief is a word that we all share right now. Councilman Barron, Charles Barron, thank you very much for spending some time with us.

BARRON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Stay safe in there.


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