On Sunday afternoon, a man was fatally shot by police officers after he started firing two semiautomatic handguns as people were leaving a Christmas choral concert outside the historic Cathedral of St. John The Divine in New York City.
According to New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, a detective, a sergeant, and an officer fired 15 rounds after the man started shooting just before 4 pm outside the church.
Despite the gunman being shot dead, Shea said it was “by the grace of God” that there were no other fatalities.
As the gunman fired, witnesses told police that he was yelling “kill me.” The man, whose name has yet to be released, reportedly had a lengthy criminal history.
During Sunday’s attempted shooting, Shea noted that the gunman was carrying a backpack containing a can of gasoline, rope, wire, tape, knives and a well-worn Bible.
The police commissioner also praised NYPD officers for their “heroic” actions in stopping the suspect.
According to Christianity Today, footage by a bystander posted to social media showed officers yelling “drop the gun” to the suspect while they crouched behind trash cans. The man, who darted in and out from behind a pillar, was fired upon by the officers while terrified civilians cowered nearby.
The gunman was shot dead moments later as civilians fled to safety.
Lisa Schubert, a cathedral spokesperson, told The New York Times how attendees were experiencing a “beautiful” concert before the gunman opened fire at the end of the service.
“Everybody is in shock,” she explained. “The shooter could have killed a lot of people. There were hundreds of people here and he shot at least 20 times.”
It was unclear, however, if the gunman was aiming at parishioners or firing into the air.
On Sunday night, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine released a statement posted to Facebook over the incident.
“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,” the statement began. “Thankfully, no injuries were reported among the attendees and the suspect is in custody.
“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. We are grateful to our first responders, and our prayers are with all those affected by this event,” the statement concluded.
St. John the Divine is considered to be the largest cathedral in the world, the church’s website states. While construction began in 1892, the building remains unfinished.
The Cathedral is also associated with several notable figures and historical events. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as a cathedral trustee.
The church hosted the memorial services for “The Muppets” creator and puppeteer Jim Henson and choreographer Alvin Ailey. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were amongst several known names who spoke at the church throughout the years.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Fernando Rico Mateu
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.