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Gunman shoots 7, kills self at Empire State Building


'A popping noise,' then bloodshed, bedlam

February 24, 1997
Web posted at: 9:00 a.m. EST

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A man opened fire Sunday on an observation deck of the Empire State Building, killing one person and wounding six before shooting himself in the head, authorities said.

The gunman, a 69-year-old Palestinian, was taken to a hospital where he died more than five hours later, according to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's press office.

Empire State Building

The man muttered something about Egypt seconds before he began shooting shortly after 5 p.m. Sunday on the 86th floor observation deck of one of the world's best-known tourist sites, witnesses said.

Ali Abu Kamal used a .380-caliber Beretta handgun that he apparently bought in Florida at the end of January, Giuliani said.

"I heard a loud popping noise," said French tourist Jean-Luec Will, 40. "I thought at first it was a little child playing with fireworks."

Finally sensing danger, Will, 40, his wife and two young sons -- one wearing a red Chicago Bulls cap -- dove to the floor. Other people nearly trampled each other while dashing for exits, said David Robinson, 35, a British tourist who had arrived in the city only two hours earlier.

"Everyone started running," Robinson said. "Everybody was panicked."

On the opposite side of the deck, Gerard Guntner, 43, and George McHenry, 52, both maintenance workers from Jersey City, New Jersey, were shooting video of the view of their home state. Drawn by the commotion, Guntner stumbled across a man with a bullet wound in the head. He instinctively began cradling him.

"He was coughing blood. ... I just said, 'Hang in there,'" Guntner said. Guntner's hands shook as he smoked a cigarette while recounting the experience.

McHenry, meanwhile, videotaped what he described as "five bodies" strewn about the deck -- footage the police later confiscated. "I don't know why I took those pictures, believe me," McHenry said. "I don't know if it did any good or not."

Belgian businessman Stef Nys, 36, recalled hearing a final shot and turning in time to see the gunman slumping to the floor, his dentures out of his mouth.

Witnesses said the gunman shouted, "Are you from Egypt?" during the shooting, according to law enforcement sources. Police said they did not know whether it was said in an effort to spare or identify potential victims.

His passport said he was from Ramallah, on the West Bank, and entered the United States on Christmas Eve, Giuliani said.

The other dead man was a 27-year-old Danish musician visiting the Empire State Building with an American friend from Connecticut, Matthew Gross, 27, who was also wounded, according to Giuliani.

The others wounded included a French couple from Verdun, whose 16-year-old daughter escaped injury; a 30-year-old Swiss man; an Argentinian man, 52; and a man from the Bronx. One of the wounded men was shot in the head, while others were less seriously hurt.

Two children were hurt when they were knocked from parents' arms and four women suffered minor injuries in the rush to the exit.

Nys said he had gone to the Empire State Building "to try to relax myself a little bit." He left a shaken man.

"I've never seen so much blood in my life," he said.

top of Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is one of the world's most admired skyscrapers. The 102-story skyscraper opened in 1931 and reigned for decades as the world's tallest until 1972.

Building officials planned to review security procedures, though a spokesman defended the building's lack of metal detectors or bag searches and called its security "superb."

Leona Helmsley, whose real estate company manages the Empire State Building, said the firm would pay for families of victims to be flown to New York.

"We will do everything possible to lighten their burden during this terrible time," Helmsley said through Rubenstein.

CNN Correspondent Peg Tyre contributed to this report.


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