BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – A gunman barricaded the back door of a community
centre with his car and then opened fire on a room full of immigrants
taking a citizenship class yesterday, killing 13 people before
apparently committing suicide.
Officials have identified the
gunman as Jiverly Voong, 42, a Vietnamese American who recently lost
his job at IBM in nearby Johnson City and was taking language classes
at the centre.
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Investigators said they had yet to establish a
motive for the massacre, which was at least the fifth deadly mass
shooting in the United States in the past month alone.
attack came just after 10 a.m. at the American Civic Association, an
organization that helps immigrants settle in the United States.
Chief Joseph Zikuski said the gunman parked his car against the back
door, "making sure nobody could escape," then stormed through the
front, shooting two receptionists, apparently without a word. Voong
then entered a room just off the reception area and fired on a
"The people were trying to better themselves, trying to become citizens," the police chief said.
One receptionist was killed, while the other, who was shot in the
abdomen, pretended to be dead, then crawled under a desk and called
911, he said. Police said they arrived within two minutes.
The rest of those killed were shot in the classroom. Four people were critically wounded.
The man identified as Voong was found dead with a self-inflicted
gunshot wound in an office, a satchel containing ammunition slung
around his neck. Police found two handguns – a 9 mm and a .45-calibre –
as well as a hunting knife, authorities said.
people in all were rescued from the building, including 26 who hid in
the boiler room in the basement, cowering there for three hours while
police methodically searched the building and tried to determine
whether the gunman was still alive and whether he was holding any
hostages, Zikuski said.
Those in the basement stayed in contact
with police by cell phone, switching from one phone to another when
their batteries ran out, Zikuski said. Others hid in closets and under
At one point, police led a number of men out of the
building in plastic handcuffs, while they tried to sort out the victims
from the killer or killers. Most of the people brought out couldn't
speak English, the chief said.
Alex Galkin, an immigrant from
Uzbekistan, said he was taking English classes when he heard a shot and
quickly went to the basement with about 20 other people.
"It was just panic," Galkin said.
Zhanar Tokhtabayeva, 30, from Kazakhstan, said she was in an English
class when she heard a shot and her teacher screamed for everyone to go
to the storage room.
"I heard the shots, every shot. I heard no screams, just silence," she said. "I was thinking that my life was finished."
New York state Governor David Paterson said the massacre was probably
"the worst tragedy and senseless crime in the history of this city."
Noting mass killings in Alabama and Oakland, Calif., last month, he
said: "When are we going to be able to curb the kind of violence that
is so fraught and so rapid that we can't even keep track of the
The community centre was holding class "for those
who want to become citizens of the United States of America, who wanted
to be part of the American Dream and so tragically may have had that
hope thwarted today," the governor said.
Zikuski said the suspected gunman "was no stranger" to the community centre. "We have no idea what the motive is," he said.
A woman who answered the phone at a listing for Henry D. Voong said she
was Jiverly Voong's sister but would not give her name. She said her
brother had been in the country for 28 years and had citizenship.
police just called me and said he got shot," she said. Asked if she was
aware he might have been involved in the shooting, she said: "How? He
didn't have a gun."
Yesterday evening, police searched Voong's
house and carried out three computer hard drives, a brown canvas rifle
case, a briefcase, a small suitcase and a number of paper bags.
Waiting outside a Catholic Charities office where counsellors were
tending to relatives of victims, Omri Yigal said his wife, Delores, was
taking English lessons when the gunman attacked. He had no word on what
happened to her.
"At this point, I know the scale of what
happened, but I just hope Delores is okay," the Filipino immigrant
said. "I haven't got any information. The only thing I have right now
The American Civic Association helps immigrants in the
Binghamton area with citizenship, resettlement and family
reunification. The shootings took place in a neighbourhood of homes and
small businesses in this city of 47,000 people.