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One Dead, One Injured In New York City Hall Shooting

Aired July 23, 2003 - 15:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And as word is now coming in to CNN, we have confirmed one individual has been killed in this shooting in New York at City Hall. Miles, you have more information coming in.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that comes actually from the Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One killed, another wounded. So, that brings us back to two victims, which was where our reporting kind of began. But we've had some conflicting information on the number of people shot.

Michael Okwu is on the line with us and he has been I believe in contact with mayor recently and has some information for us. Michael, what do you know?

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, miles, you got it right there at the top. Two people shot, at least two people at this point we know. And you mentioned one dead, one wounded. The mayor, as well as the police commissioner, Ray Kelly, saying that they would not give out any specific information about those people shot until they had notified their families and had a little bit more time to continue this investigation.

Now, the mayor made it very clear, Miles, that they have a description of the shooter that this person is still at large. He said that it was a terrible act, that we will not rest, he said, until we found out who did this. Mayor Michael Bloomberg going on to say that this strikes at the essence of democracy, given the location of where the shootings occurred.

Now the police commissioner, Miles, also said that the person that they're looking for is a male wearing a blue blazer or a blue suit. They said that they would have more specific information about this shooter in about an hour. We expect there to be another briefing sometime during the 4:00 hour.

The mayor also, Miles, going on to say that they do not know how he got into the building. Of course, this is one of the most pressing issues here, is how a gunman gets into City Hall. You have to imagine this situation being very much like going into an airport with metal detectors on both sides of City Hall. Obviously, it's a sensitive site. The media very anxious to know how he got in there.

He said that they have not positively, again, identified any of the victims. He said that they're going to try very hard to rectify the situation. To find out how it is he could have gotten into the building. This shooting occurred at a time that City Council was actually having a meeting. The mayor, obviously, very, very distressed -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Michael, couple things for you. We had one eyewitness report from one of the council members inside that it's possible the shooter being sought might have been struck by gunfire from City Hall security. Did the mayor indicate that at all to you?

OKWU: Absolutely not. And you can imagine that we were trying to listen to radio reports and even listening the police scanner as we were making our way down here to City Hall. We heard all kind of talk about more than two people being shot, about this particular shooter being shot.

But the mayor and the police commissioner, as well as the City Council speaker did not talk specifically about that. So we cannot give you the confirmation on that at this hour.

O'BRIEN: All right, the other thing that we heard from witnesses earlier, I'd like you to weigh in on this one as well, is a description which does not match what you just said. You said blue blazer or perhaps blue shirt. We had a description earlier from one of the City Council members, Michael McMahan, who said he was a male in his 30s or 40s, light skinned African-American or dark skinned Hispanic. Is that at all jiving with the description that you heard?

OKWU: Again, that's information that is out there, but it's certainly not the specific information that was given at the official press briefing just moments ago. Again, Commissioner Ray Kelly saying the person they are looking for is a male wearing a blue blazer or a blue suit and they said they would only have more specific information later on this afternoon.

But anything beyond that, they just did not get into -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Just to clarify a very important point here. Of course, the mayor was safe and sound the whole time, but they have been saying right from the get go that this is not terrorism in any way, did he underscore that point for you?

OKWU: He didn't use those words so much as to say it appears to be an isolated incident of -- the mayor also stressed that people in New York City should go about their business, as they normally do. Perhaps they should take a moment to pause and reflect and say some prayers for those wounded. But he made it very clear that he does not see this at this point in the investigation as anything beyond the shooting here in city hall and that's it.

O'BRIEN: With a suspect at large, I suspect, if you will, that this area that we're seeing right now through the courtesy of WCBS right around city hall has a pretty broad coorden.

What evidence do you see of police activity right now?

OKWU: It may be a serious understatement, but it is sort of an orchestrated mayhem here. There are literally hundreds of law enforcement officials here as well as hundreds of members of the media. They have coordened off both the Brooklyn Bridge as well as the Manhattan Bridge. Just to give people around the country a sense of what this looks like. This is the lower east end of Manhattan. Literally almost at the tip, the lower east end of the tip of Manhattan.

The Brooklyn Bridge, of course, connects Manhattan with the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Brooklyn as does the Manhattan Bridge. City hall is located literally about 30 or so yards up from the Brooklyn Bridge. So immediately after this occurred, even though they were not able to get this gunman, something a lot of media here have questioned, they shut off the bridge hoping that perhaps this shooter was trying to make his way or her way, his way, I'm sorry, across either way of the bridges. So they wanted to coorden off this area.

Right now it is basically a site with lots of personnel roaming around. The police are very agitated. There are helicopters flying overhead. One would imagine some of those helicopters belong to us in the media, as well as police helicopters. Supposedly one would imagine still conducting the search for this gunman -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Quick recap and then we'll like to show you the full tape of that briefing that you were reporting off of, but just to help our viewers out here who are just diving in at this moment. The mayor has, in fact, confirmed two victims. One has deceased, one is injured in the wake of this shooting which occurred now an hour and 45 minutes ago. New York City Hall is the location. There you can see one of the victims being carried on a gurney and off to New York University Downtown Hospital. It happened at the outset of a city council meeting. A period of time they call the ceremonials and proclamation and so forth. About a 100 people up on the balcony. That's where shooting occurred.

Five to seven shots initially. And the earlier reports we had indicated that the shooter himself was shot are now being discredited by the mayor and the police commissioner. They are saying the shooter who was wearing a blue shirt or a blue blazer, a male, we don't have any more description than that. Did in fact fled the scene and is being sought right now. Not describing this as terrorism. Saying this is random or directed, if you will, at one or specific individuals, put it that way. Right now big manhunt under way in the lower part of Manhattan. Let's send it over to Kyra.

PHILLIPS: I understand we do have that tape racked up to bring to you of Mayor Michael Bloomberg of when he addressed reporters. This is what he said recently. New developments since the first time that he spoke about 45 minutes ago. Lets listen to him and also Gifford Miller, president of city council, side by side with the mayor here.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: We have a description of the shooter and the police are looking for the perpetrator. This is a terrible act, our prayers go out to those that were shot and we will not rest until we find out who did this. This is the most outrageous thing, where it took place in the city council chambers strikes at the very essence of democracy. And we will not rest until we catch the person.

Let me ask the speaker of the city council to say a word.

GIFFORD MILLER, NY. CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I don't have much to say. We don't have a great deal of information to go on other than to say, I was in the chambers and I heard a number of shots rang out and everyone around me went to the floor. As far as I know everyone around me was fine. We're in the process of trying to sort out exactly what happened. But I want people to know that we appreciate the council members and the police secure the site very quickly. We are appreciative of the work they are doing. As far as the two people that were shot, my prayers, my thoughts and those of all the members of the council and staff are with them and we hope to be able to tell you more at an early date.

BLOOMBERG: Let me reiterate that this appears to be an isolated event. That for the rest of the city, they should go about their business, but perhaps a prayer for those shot might be appropriate. Let me ask the PC to say a word. Commissioner Kelly.

COMM. RAYMOND KELLY, NYC POLICE: We're in the process of evacuating the building. We have a description, very general description. A male wearing a blue blazer or a blue suit and, again, our investigation is just starting. We'll have more specific information in about an hour's time (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLOOMBERG: I'll be happy to take one or two questions. Sir.

QUESTION: Mayor, can you explain to us how someone could get a gun in...

BLOOMBERG: We do not know how someone got a gun into the building. We have security, obviously, there was a breakdown some place. Somebody got an unauthorized gun into city hall and tragedy used it. And part of the investigation will be to see what broke down in our procedures and to rectify them. Well take one more question.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea which councilman?

BLOOMBERG: We don't know. We have not positively identified either of the victims and we're not going to talk about that until we do. We'll do that at some later time.

QUESTION: Do you have a reason to believe these two individuals were targeted?

BLOOMBERG: We don't know, it was in a balcony where other people were while a city council meeting was going on, with guest, a normal city council meeting. And somebody pulled the gun and started shooting, and two people were hit. One of whom is dead. Those are the only facts we know for sure and until we know more, we're not going to speculate. The police department is here in force. They're searching the building. They are looking around the area for anybody that fits the description that they have and later on when we have more information we'll be happy to answer it.


BLOOMBERG: We don't know where the perpetrator is, that's why we're searching the building and looking in the surrounding area. And we'll have a briefing later on when we do know more.


PHILLIPS: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg side by side there with the Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and also speaker of city council, Gifford Miller. A shooter at large, plain and simple. The hunt continues for the man who opened fire inside of city hall. One person confirmed dead and one injured and the hunt continues for the shooter. A male possibly wearing a blue blazer or a blue suit. These are the latest developments as this story started breaking an hour and a half ago when shots were fired shortly after 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Apparently on the second floor of this city hall building in Lower Manhattan.

You're seeing videotape now of two of the victims in this shooting. We know that is one is dead, one is injured. We can't tell you specifically who these victims are. It's the only videotape we have of the two individuals courtesy WABC in New York. You can see the medics working on both of the victims. Police officers are still searching the building at city hall. The neighborhood surrounding city hall looking for the shooter who carried out this attack. Council members still confined and council chambers.

A number of witnesses talking with police as the search continues -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Michael Okwu is outside. He was there for that briefing with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Michael Okwu, did the mayor or the police commissioner, or anybody there confirm the identities of either of the victims. We've heard some names and we want to make sure we're getting those, at one name I should say, we want to make sure we're getting that right. What do you know about that?

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, the officials here addressed the media here were very keen not to mention descriptions or names of the wounded or the dead. All we know at this point is that one person is, in fact, confirmed dead and that one person is wounded.

As you know, Miles, there were earlier reports that more than two people were shot. We're still waiting to find out whether there is any more information on that. We know from talking to a couple eye witnesses here at the scene that more than two stretchers were taken into the building, there's more like four or five stretchers that were taken in to city hall, of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that all of those stretchers were needed.

But at this point the mayor very keen on saying one person dead, one person wounded. We'll give you more information at a press conference later on this hour at a press conference -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, we should point out, we only have pictures of two wounded individuals being transported out, for what that is worth. Give me a word, Michael Okwu, on the security set up there at city hall, post 9/11 in particular.

We had a conversation with Joe Rivera who is inside that anteroom of the council of chamber, along iwth a hundred other still quartered off. Police were questioning some people there who might have been on -- staff members on one council member's staff. And the issue came up of how you can get a gun in there. And there was some indication on his part that perhaps if you were with a staffer or a council member, member of the public, you might not be subjected to the same level of security. Is that true?

OKWU: That is true, Miles. But it's still a very stunning development here. The fact is security has been so tight post 9/11 around the World Trade Center, certainly in this part of Manhattan, that you would think if it was in place anywhere, it would be city hall. And in fact, as I mentioned earlier, when you walk into city hall you simply cannot just walk through those doors. You have to go through a variety of metal detectors, sometimes they even can you to be extra cautious and take your jacket off and take parts of your clothing off so that they can get a more specific look.

It appears that, perhaps, that did not happen here and there is rampant speculation that perhaps this person was in some way connected with those people who don't have to go through the same security checkpoint as others. But, of course, that is just speculation at this point.

O'BRIEN: Well, but perhaps, without getting too far down the road of speculation, that in order to get a gun past that apparatus, it had some degree of familarity, at least, with the set up and where the loop holes might be.

OKWU: That's a very good point, Miles. It may very well be the case but, of course, the mayer and the police commissioner not giving us any indication of what might have been the case, except the mayor very plainly saying there was clearly a break down here, slightly, obviously, I would think, embarrassed by this and saying that they would try very hard to try to rectify the situation, but, of course, there won't be any rectifying first until they actually find this person who is clearly on the hunt.

There's a major manhunt going on here in lower Manhattan, we would assume in parts of Brooklyn. We have seen police vehicles making their way across the bridge. They are spreading out far and wide in lower Manhattan and one would imagine, in other parts of Manhattan, to try to apprehend this gunman -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: It's also in the hard to imagine category, how this person could have gotten out of city hall after firing shots like that. You have any thoughts on that?

OKWU: Well, I can tell you this, and in talking to other people who were down here and just any New Yorker will tell you it's strange credulity to think that not only could a gunman make it into city hall with the kind of security that one assumes was in place after 9/11, be able to squeeze off at least a couple rounds and then afterwards be able to make it out of the building. There are reports unconfirmed by us at this point, but by some eyewitnesses I heard on radio transmissions heading down here, that the police have stormed the building after the shots were fired. That there were plain clothed police officers who may have started firing upwards towards the gunman. If those reports are true, one has to imagine how it is this person could have made it out of the situation, other than explaining the fact that there is clearly a lot of mayhem here, lots of people hitting the deck.

You heard the city council speaker saying earlier that they all sort of fell down as this was going on. Everyone running for cover after the gunfire stopped. So clearly there was a situation where there were people running around and a great deal of mayhem -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: You know, and looking at these aerials, Michael, you don't have the benefit of seeing from this view from where you stand right now, but there seems to be a lot of activity. I can't imagine it's all police or official activity. How far off an area have they coordened off here?

OKWU: It's certainly, that's a guess from my point, I have to be honest with you. And in fact, even as you ask me that question, I see now that traffic across the Brooklyn Bridge is resuming. So, not official confirmation, but from what I can see by standing on the lawns of city hall and looking east towards the Brooklyn Bridge I can see that travel is going across that bridge.

So maybe they're loosening the range a little bit. But around the streets of city hall, there's still yellow police tape put up where people cannot cross. I would say that we're talking probably about an area of about some five acres or so, but it could very well stretch beyond this.

You have to understand, Miles, they're so sensitive to what happened here that they're allowing very little movement of pedestrians and certainly of the media. You can be standing on one side of city hall and you can't see what's going on on the other side of it, but one has to assume that is coordened off and they're carefully monitoring movement there as well -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Michael Okwu, thank you very much. I'll send it over to Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Alright, I'm being told that we just got some tape in of an interview that was done with another city council member. City Council Member Mike Nelson just to sort of set you up for what you're going to hear, no confirmation on the one dead or the one injured in this shooting at city hall. A name that has been brought up a number of times via other council members, the name James Davis. A council member who was in the chambers when the shooting took place. One of the council members coming on our air mentioning that it's possibly, one of the victims may be Council Member James Davis.

Now we're getting this tape in from City Council Member Mike Nelson describing how Council Member James Davis was seen chasing the shooter. Let's listen and hear what he has to say.


MIKE NELSON, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: I sit, like, in the first row and I just heard bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. And I thought it was a fire cracker, the first three or four until people started screaming that's when a bunch of us just went on the floor and then we heard a lot more shots going off. I don't know, it must have been 20 rounds. It's hard when you have your head on the floor.


NELSON: Just about. That was probably our guys, too, and gals. I did hear that James Davis, I heard this. He ran upstairs to try to apprehend this guy. This is what I heard, I don't know for sure. He's an ex-cop and either he was there to begin with or he ran up when he heard the shots. A council member, I heard he also ran up there, too.


PHILLIPS: All right, you just heard from city council member Mike Nelson saying he can't confirm it, but he had heard it was council member James Davis that ran up to chase the shooter. Now, this wouldn't surprise you, probably, when you look at the Bio on council member James Davis.

In 1989 he joined the New York City corrections department, and was assigned a Riker's Island for two years. In 1991 he became a New York City transit police officer and then in 1993 he transfered to the New York City police department and upon graduation was assigned to the 73rd precinct in Brooklyn.

So, obviously, as a police officer, if indeed this did happen, council member James Davis, that is exactly what he would have been trained and would have wanted to do, and that is, pursue the shooter that opened fire in city hall.

Still cannot confirm if indeed Council Member James Davis is one of the individuals that was shot. He name was mentioned from other City Council Members that were in the meeting with him today. We are stil trying to get confirmation on that. But you heard from City Council Member Mike Nelson, possibly, that Council Member Davis went after the shooter once this broke out. We're continuing to follow this and try and get as much information as we can, of course, on the wearabouts, or the contintion of Council Member James Davis -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: We should point out the mayor of the city of New York, Michael Bloomberg was in his office at the time of the shooting and is safe and sound. We've heard from him twice. We expect to hear from him very shortly with yet another briefing and, of course, we'll will bring that to you as soon as that happens.

We're right at the top of the hour. It's as good as a time as any to recap for you, for those of you just tuning in to CNN. About two hours ago is when it happened. Shots fired at city hall in New York City in lower Manhattan. Massive manhunt under way, right now, for a suspect, a shooter who is described only as a male wearing either a blue blazer or a blue suit. It happened in the city council chambers in a balcony that is accessible to the public, just as the city council was beginning its ceremonial portion of its session.

Now you see pictures of the two victims that we know of right now being transported to New York University downtown hospital. It has been confirmed by the mayor that one of those victims has deceased. One of those is considered injured and we're still not clear on identities of exactly who we're seeing there and exactly the conditions of individuals including Councilman Davis. But we have it from numerous sources that he was, in fact, one of those who was struck by bullets in this attack.

The sense that we're getting from numerous witnesses is that this was a very specific or directed shooting, not terroristic or random. There are some reports that police have been interviewing specific members of James Davis' staff with questions about how someone might have gotten in to city hall with a handgun, perhaps circumventing some of the security measures, which are in place there and certainly redoubled since the 9/11 attacks.

But just to recap, the shooting occurred about two hours ago. At least a dozen shots fired. At least two victims, one of them deceased. A massive manhunt under way now in New York City for the shooter who opened fire at New York City Hall 2:00 p.m. Eastern -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: A number of witnesses, of course, there inside City Hall when the shooting took place. James Capelino on the phone with us now. James, first of all, can you tell me your position there inside city hall, why you were there today?

JAMES CAPELINO, LOBBYIST: I'm a government relations consultant otherwise known as a lobbyist and I was here with a client of mine from out of town and we were slated to meet with a number of council member during the course of a council meeting, this is not unusual. Council members frequently will take advantage of breaks in the meeting to meet with constituents or lobbyists and so I was preparing to go to the back of the council chamber to get the attention of the particular council member and ask them to join me off the floor for a meeting with my client.

PHILLIPS: Who was the council member you were wanting to visit with?

CAPELINO: Tony Lavella who is the chair of the zoning and franchises subcommitte of the land use committee of the council.

PHILLIPS: So, James, did you see anything? Take us back to before the shooting occurred and when it happened where were you? What did you see? What did you hear?

CAPELINO: Well it was sultry day, obviously, in New York, and not a particularly busy council agenda and I was standing in the lobby of city hall a building I know well from my prior experiences using general services. And was waiting basically for the appointed time to go up to the second floor. As the, I guess the hour approached, I sort of lost track of time, I think it was around 2:00, I decided I would go up and just, sort of, make eye contact with Mr. Lalvella and walked to the stairs.

As I put my foot down on the stair to walk up to the second floor seven to ten shots rang out and very rapid succession. There were immediately cries and screams and, of course, I immediately recognized that it was handgun fire and I quickly turn and ran to the mayor's side of the hall where there is a police officer or two stationed behind what is known as the police desk and screamed to them, gunshots and then immediately ran outside to the front steps of city hall and yell to the police officers, gun shots have been fired in city hall. They immediately drew their guns and came running up the stairs and at that point I ran back in the building, people were fleeing from the second floor. The rotunda and the lobby were crowded with people.

The police officers immediately urged city workers to go back to their respective wings. The mayor occupies one side of City Hall. The Council Speaker the other side. And they asked the rest of us to leave and we immediately left and went outside city hall in the parking lot and now standing on the broadway side of city hall near the security gate.

PHILLIPS: James, did you see the shooter?

CAPELINO: No, I did not.

PHILLIPS: So you heard the shots and responded?


PHILLIPS: Were you the first to alert the mayor's personnel of this shooting?

CAPELINO: Well I couldn't help but hear the gun shots inside the building. The mayor was in the building at the time and of course on his side of city hall there are a number of police officers who are stationed as part of the intelligence detail that protects the mail and other major city officials and I'm sure they instantaneously took the mayor into a secure room pursuitant to their procedures.

And I understand the council speaker was in his office and they did the same thing. The Council Speaker has a security detail and they immediately did a lockdown with the council speaker.

PHILLIPS: Did you, by chance, see the two victims that we have actually -- we have videotape of the victims being brought out on the gurneys, that the medics working on them. Did you see those two victims being brought out or did you see them on the stretcher?

CAPELINO: From the Broadway side of the front of city hall and I'm probably, I would say a good football distance, maybe half a football distance from the steps of city hall from this perspective. I did see the victims being brought down, but I had no sense of who they were or what their condition was. PHILLIPS: So you did get a glimpse of the two victims.

CAPELINO: Only saw them being brought down in the gurneys. No sense of that their condition was or who they were.

PHILLIPS: Could you see, by chance, a uniform or, you know, what they were wearing? A uniform or a suit.

CAPELINO: I could not because it looked to me as if they were strapped into the gurneys and they were covered with the usual blanket and they were taken very rapidly into the ambulances and the ambulances actually left from the opposite side of city hall, which is the way you would go if you were going to NYU downtown hospital. It would be quicker to go that way than come to the Broadway side.

PHILLIPS: James Capalino, inside city hall when this took place, the shooting, thank you, James, very much. Once again if you're just tuning in a shooting in City Hall in downtown Manhattan. We can confirm that one individual is dead, one is injured and a shooter is still at large. We're going to continue following this story as we move into the 4:00 Eastern hour.

O'BRIEN: We do expect to hear from Mayor Michael Bloomberg for what will be the third time today. That's coming up momentarily. We'll bring that to you live when that happens. In the mean time we're going to take a break and when we return Judy Woodruff's "INSIDE POLITICS". Stay with CNN.


O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien at CNN center in Atlanta. Just to bring you up to date on the situation in New York City, before we bring you "INSIDE POLITICS". A major manhunt under way, right now, for a person who is described only as male in a blue blazer or blue suit who is responsible for the scene you're about to see here. This happened a little after 2:00 p.m. Eastern, about two hours ago. Two victims rushed out of city hall in lower Manhattan. We're told one of these people is dead, the other injured and we're also told that one of the victims is a city council member, James Davis of Brooklyn.

The shooting occurred shortly after 2:00 p.m. in the city council chambers. It happened in a balcony accessible to the public. At the outset of a city council meeting we've heard from some witnesses that police were asking members of the James Davis staff if, perhaps, the shooter was able to use their good graces, if you will, to circumvent security, which, of course, has been tightened significantly post 9/11, in order to get inside city hall.

Once again the manhunt under way. We're tracking the story. We expect to hear from Mayor Michael Bloomberg very shortly. We'll bring that to you live when it happens. For now, "INSIDE POLITICS".


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