Earlier this morning, a man police identified as Jeffrey Johnson, an accessories designer reportedly fired from his job at a handbag company called Hazan Imports, shot and killed his former boss, Steve Ercolino, outside the company’s Empire State Building offices. Within minutes, Johnson was killed by police standing guard at the building’s tourist entrance; nine other bystanders were injured.
“I saw him pull a gun out from his jacket, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to shoot him’—and I wanted to turn and push Steve out of the way,” a co-worker who was walking with Ercolino, Irene Timan, told the New York Times. “I knew it, I just knew it was going to happen. But it was too late. Steve screamed, Jeff shot him, and I just turned and ran.”
Timan told the paper Johnson was silent as he approached. “He didn’t say one word,” Timan said.
At a press conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that Johnson was fired a year ago from Hazan, which according to state business records was founded in 1975 by Isaac Hazan and registered to an address in Deal, New Jersey, a hub for the Syrian Jewish community. Hazan passed away in 2009, according to the Forward, and the company is now run by Ralph Hazan, who did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
It’s not clear why Johnson was fired. Hazan announced a branding agreement with BUM Equipment, the street fashion company, for puffed kids’ handbags, in 2007, but it was dropped two years ago, Stephen Wayne, BUM’s chairman told Tablet in a brief phone interview.
Allison Hoffman is a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Her Twitter feed is @allisont_dc.