NYC councilman killed by political rival
Gunman, accompanied by victim, bypassed metal detector
NEW YORK (CNN) -- In a crime that sent shock waves across New York City, a political rival of City Councilman James E. Davis opened fire in the chamber's balcony, killing Davis just minutes after the two had entered City Hall together, authorities said.
The gunman, Othniel Askew, 31, was shot and killed by a plainclothes officer who was on the council speaker's security detail.
"It's a very sad day for New York," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters. "It is a great tragedy."
Bloomberg said Davis -- a 41-year-old former police officer known as a crusader against urban violence -- and Askew had entered through the west entrance at 1:44 p.m. EDT.
The two did not pass through a metal detector, which is not unusual for elected officials, apparently allowing Askew to slip his silver .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun into the council chamber undetected, along with an extra four bullets in his socks.
As a result of the security breach, Bloomberg said that effective immediately he and all other elected officials and their guests must go through the metal detectors.
Bloomberg and other city officials said there was no sign of a verbal or physical altercation between Davis and Askew before the shots rang out. Authorities said Askew fired shots at Davis on the balcony and never appeared to fire down below at the rest of the city council members.
"The city council meeting was going along normally when all of a sudden there were screams and shots," Bloomberg said.
One city councilman, Charles Barron, who represents Brooklyn, said shortly before the shooting, Davis had introduced him to Askew, saying, "This is the guy who was once against me, but now he's with me."
FBI: Man claimed he was harassed
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said a police officer on the main level of the chamber fired six shots at Askew. Askew suffered multiple wounds to his chest and arms. Kelly said it was unclear if any of his wounds were self-inflicted.
Davis was shot in the torso. Davis was known to carry a licensed gun, but was unable to draw the weapon, Kelly said.
With the investigation focusing on the suspect and his motives, FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette told CNN that a man identifying himself as Othniel Askew called their office earlier in the day and accused Davis of harassment.
"The person who took the call said he sounded very cool, calm and collected," Valiquette said, adding that the caller made no threats.
Witnesses in the chamber gave a harrowing account of chaos and mayhem, with council members and their staff ducking for cover -- papers flying in the air -- as screams and shots echoed through the room. The main floor of the chamber seats the city's 51 council members and their staff, while the balcony allows the public to observe the meetings.
"All pandemonium broke out," Councilman Michael McMahon said.
Manhattan Councilwoman Gale Brewer said, "This was a very, very, very frightening experience."
"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," she said.
Soon, everyone was trying to escape, she said.
"We were running really fast. People were tripping, they were falling -- they were even falling over the line in front of the guard rail. 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," she said.
Bloomberg said he was sitting in his office at the time.
"I was at my desk working and all of a sudden I heard screams and a loud noise," he said.
He immediately thought about a group of children who were there to watch the council meeting. They were immediately corralled into a secure room and received grief counseling, he said.
The attack, Bloomberg said, "strikes at the very essence of democracy."
'How did this happen at City Hall?'
Geoffrey Davis, the brother of the assassinated councilman, was outraged.
"The system killed my brother," he shouted. "Just the same way they killed Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, the system knew that my brother would continue fighting for the betterment to stop violence. That's who killed my brother. The system."
He also demanded: "How did this happen at City Hall?"
Friends and colleagues of Askew were equally shocked.
Cheni Yerushalmi, who worked on his city council campaign, said Askew was running for office because he wanted "to make things better for the underdog. He was an upstanding guy."
Yerushalmi said Askew did have a license to own a gun.
"I can't believe this. I'm shocked," Yerushalmi said.
Asked whether Askew had a history of violence, Yerushalmi said, "He's not violent. He gets angry; we all get angry. But he's never been violent in terms of rage. He's never been violent towards me."
"I can't even imagine what triggered something like this," said Yerushalmi, who met Askew 10 years ago when the two were vacationing in the Hamptons, where they became fast friends. "He's a great guy, very understanding."
Yerushalmi, who described himself and Askew as real estate entrepreneurs who worked independently of each other, added, "He's been there for me a thousand times. I feel very terrible about this incident and the whole situation. I don't know what could have led to it. It's just totally out of character."
Joe Raby, a friend who's known Askew for nearly a decade, said of Wednesday's attack: "It's just astounding."