Shortly after the conclusion of a Christmas caroling event, a gunman started shooting at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights on Sunday afternoon — but blessedly, no bystanders were injured.
Three officers at the scene returned fire and killed the man with a gunshot wound to the head during the shooting that occurred at about 3:45 p.m. on Dec. 13 outside the house of worship at the corner of West 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
According to eyewitness accounts, the suspect held two firearms over his head from the top of the cathedral’s front steps, shooting into the air several times while yelling, “Kill me.”
Hundreds of bystanders, who gathered to watched the holiday caroling fled in all directions as officers moved in. The streets between West 111th and West 113th Streets cordoned off from pedestrians and traffic while SWAT trucks, police cruisers, and ambulances remain on the scene as NYPD officials investigate.
“It is by the grace of God today that we don’t have anyone struck and killed by the gunman,” Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said during a press conference. Commissioner Shea called the three officers who were at the scene heroes for their swift response.
Cops recovered two semi-automatic weapons from the suspect’s possession as well as a bag containing, gasoline, rope, wire, multiple knives, tape, and a Bible.
The deceased gunman’s identity was withheld by police, pending the ongoing investigation. Shea said he had a very long criminal history.
No one else was injured by the gunfire, though two police officers wound up being treated for tinnitus.
According to City Councilman Mark Levine, it appears the gunman had scaled the cathedral’s scaffolding, from which he began firing “indiscriminately in the air.” The unidentified individual apparently challenged the cops to shoot him.
The shooter caused fear and alarm at the cathedral, with participants in the concert being led away from the church with their hands up in the air.
The concert, featuring masked, socially-distanced members of the Cathedral Choir, took place on the cathedral steps at 3 p.m., and ended right around the time shots rang out.
“Our Carols for the Community event this afternoon was interrupted by an armed individual, who set off a round of gunfire into the air from our front steps. Thankfully, no injuries were reported among the attendees and the suspect is in custody,” according to a statement issued on the cathedral’s Twitter account. “It is horrible that our choir’s gift to New York City, a much-needed afternoon of song and unity, was cut short by this shocking act of violence. We will remain strong, together, and serve as a safe space for prayer, meditation and celebration during the upcoming holiday season.”
The cathedral is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.