The mother of the man behind the fatal shooting at the Empire State Building on Friday said she does not blame police for shooting and killing her son, but she still thinks of him as a “kindhearted, caring person.”
The gunman, identified by police as Jeffrey Johnson, confronted former co-worker Steven Ercolino outside the Empire State Building and shot him at close range in the head, killing him. Johnson was then shot and killed by police after he turned his gun on them, a move his mother believed was strategic so the officers would shoot and kill him. Nine other people were injured in the crossfire.
He had lost his job as a designer for Hazan Imports, located within the building, about a year ago, and his mother said he blamed Ercolino, a salesman, for not selling enough of the line he designed. She found out about her son’s actions and his death by watching the news.
“I know there are a lot of Jeffrey Johnsons in the world, and a lot of Jeffrey Johnsons in New York City, but when they said the company he used to work for, I just went to pieces,” his mother told The New York Times.
She asked The Times to withhold her first name and hometown in Georgia to protect her privacy. Ms. Johnson, who is in her 80s, said she racked her brain trying to figure out what caused her son’s violent behavior. She considered a childhood car accident that caused him brain trauma, his marksmanship training for the Coast Guard, even the recent death of his beloved pet. She said Johnson wrote in a letter that “life has been diminished tenfold” since the death of his cat Romeo.
Johnson attended the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. He then joined the Coast Guard and got married, but he and his wife divorced four years later. That was more than thirty years ago, his mother said. He moved to NYC about 10 years ago. His mother had not seen him for 22 years, but they spoke over the phone every Sunday, she said. She had not heard from him, though, since April 6 when he called to wish her a happy birthday.
“I don’t blame police in New York for shooting my son, because he killed somebody, —but for me, he hasn’t changed,” she said. “He’s still the kindhearted, caring person who loved all kinds of animals and I’m sure he loved us. You know a mother always tries to look for the best in you.”