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‘It was just panic’

Gunman who killed 13 may have have been recently laid off

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – The community center was filled with people from countries as far off as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, all working to become more a part of their new home – learning English, taking a class to gain U.S. citizenship. The gunman may have walked a similar path to become an American decades ago.

He parked his car against the back door, stormed through the front and shot two receptionists, apparently without saying a word. Then he fired on a citizenship class while terrified people, their only escape route blocked, scrambled into a boiler room and a storage room and prayed he wouldn’t follow.

“I heard the shots, every shot. I heard no screams, just silence, shooting,” said Zhanar Tokhtabayeva, a 30-year-old Kazakh who was in an English class when her teacher screamed for everyone to go to the storage room. “I heard shooting, very long time, and I was thinking, when will this stop? I was thinking that my life was finished.”

The gunman killed 13 people – all but one of them in the classroom – before apparently killing himself Friday morning at the American Civic Association building in Binghamton. Four people were critically wounded.

One of the receptionists survived; shot in the abdomen, she played dead before crawling under a desk and calling 911. Police Chief Joseph Zikuski said she stayed on the phone for 90 minutes, “feeding us information constantly,” despite her serious wound. “She’s a hero in her own right,” he said.

Investigators said they had yet to establish a motive for the massacre, which was at least the fifth deadly mass shooting in the U.S. in the past month alone.

The gunman – believed to be a Vietnamese immigrant – had recently been let go from IBM, said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, whose congressional district includes Binghamton. But IBM could not immediately confirm that.

Police said they arrived within two minutes at the American Civic Association, an organization that helps immigrants settle in this country.

The man believed to have carried out the attack was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in an office, a satchel containing ammunition slung around his neck, authorities said. Police found two handguns – a 9 mm and a .45-caliber – as well as a hunting knife, authorities said.

Thirty-seven people in all made it out of 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 desks.

Police heard no gunfire after they arrived but waited for about an hour before entering the building to make sure it was safe for officers. They then spent two hours searching the building.

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.

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 incidents?”

The community center 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. “But there still is an American dream, and all of us who are Americans will try to heal this very, very deep wound in the city of Binghamton.”

The suspected gunman carried ID with the name of 42-year-old Jiverly Voong of nearby Johnson City, N.Y., but that was believed to be an alias, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

A second law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said the two handguns were registered to Jiverly Wong, another name the man used.

The police chief would not confirm the name of the dead man with the ammunition satchel, saying authorities were still trying to establish with certainty that he was the gunman.

“We have no idea what the motive is,” Zikuski said. He said the suspected gunman “was no stranger” to the community center and may have gone there to take a class.

Waiting outside a Catholic Charities office where counselors 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 OK,” the Filipino immigrant said. “I haven’t got any information. . . The only thing I have right now is hope.”

The American Civic Association helps immigrants in the Binghamton area with citizenship, resettlement and family reunification. The shootings took place in a neighborhood of homes and small businesses in downtown Binghamton, a city of about 47,000 situated 140 miles northwest of New York City.

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RECENT MASS SLAYINGS

Spree killings in the U.S. during the last month have left 44 people dead.

• A gunman killed 10 people and himself in Samson, Ala.

• Shootings that began with a traffic stop in Oakland, Calif., left four police officers and the gunman dead.

• An apparent murder-suicide in Santa Clara, Calif., left six dead.

• A gunman went on a rampage at a nursing home Sunday, killing seven elderly residents and a nurse who cared for them.

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